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Selina lived well until her father Simeon died. Her aunts sold the estate and put her in a boarding school. As an adult she wants to be a teacher in farming country. She falls in love with and marries Pervus, a Dutch farmer she has been tutoring. When he dies her hopes lie with their son Dirk, who disappoints her by giving up architecture for stock brokerage. Her new hope is Roelfe, the son of her former boardinghouse keeper and a sculptor. Dirk falls in love with Dallas O'Mara, whom Selina hopes will be the inspiration for her son's salvation. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
SO BIG! (Warner Brothers, 1932), directed by William A. Wellman, based on the Pulitzer Prize novel by Edna Ferber, is a story of a woman, a woman named Selina Peake. First filmed as a silent for First National Pictures (1925) starring Colleen Moore and Ben Lyon, this latest edition, which could have been Warners' contribution to their own version to a two hour epic production to RKO Radio's Edna Ferber based novel of CIMARRON (1931), this "passage through time" story, falls short to becoming nothing more than an abridged screen treatment where much of its basic characters and chaptered selections are either discarded or presented for a few brief minutes. The only character of main importance is Selina Peake. Overlooking an off-beat title that has nothing to do with the Jolly Green Giant, this is her story, a story of a woman.
Opening title: "Chicago - in the 80's, booming, prosperous, surging with life - the gateway to the Great West." The five minute prologue introduces Selina Peake (Dawn O'Day, the future Anne Shirley), a motherless child whose father, Simeon (Robert Warwick), is a compulsive gambler but dedicated to his little girl. While dining at the Palmer House, he tells Selina something to remember, "This whole thing called life is just a grand adventure." Moving forward about ten years. Selina Peake (Barbara Stanwyck), having graduated from the Select School for Girls, is best friends with classmate Julie Hemple (Mae Madison). After Peake is shot dead at Mike MacDonald's Gambling House, Mrs. Hemple (Eulalie Jensen), refuses to have her daughter associated with Selina and her father's gambling reputation. Through the kindness Julie's father, August (a character initially played by Guy Kibbee whose scenes don't appear in the final print) secures Selina a school teaching position in a Dutch community for farmers at High Prairie outside Chicago. While boarding in the home of the Poole's, Klaus (Alan Hale), Maartjie (Dorothy Peterson), and three children, their eldest son, 12-year-old Roelfe (Dick Winslow), with a quest for knowledge and talent for drawing, spends most of his time helping his father on the farm rather than acquiring an education. Selina, who finds "cabbages are beautiful," gets an education of her own when learning that fertilizer is dried blood. Roelfe, who has grown fond of Selina, becomes jealous of her marriage to Pervus DeJong (Earle Foxe). Because of his mother's death and father marrying the Widow Parrenburg (Blanche Frederici), Roelfe, who has always hated his existence, leaves home to make something of himself. The recently widowed Selina would do the same thing, seeking a better life for both her and her young son, Dirk (Dickie Moore), whom she affectionately calls "So Big." Move forward twenty years. Dirk, a young man (Hardie Albright), is torn between pursuing his mother's dream of becoming an architect or assuming the advise of the married Paula Storm (Rita LaRoy) by becoming a Wall Street businessman. During the course of the story, Dallas O'Mara (Bette Davis), an ambitious artist, not only enters the scene, but Rolfe Poole (George Brent), a famous artist, returning home from Europe to reunite himself with someone who's been an inspiration in his life.
For Barbara Stanwyck, SO BIG shows how she can be more than just one of the LADIES OF LEISURE (1930), THE MIRACLE WOMAN (1931) or NIGHT NURSE (1931), but an actress going through the aging process from young woman in her twenties to mother in her fifties, who curtsies every time she meets new people. In its present 82 minute format, SO BIG, with so much material crammed into so short of time, is one of those ambitious projects that should have been expanded by more than a half hour to allow more time for viewers to become better acquainted with both characters and story. Yet, even through its tight editing, the pacing is slow and characters undeveloped. Although it's difficult to compare this with the now lost 1925 edition, its easy to compare this with the existing 1953 remake of SO BIG starring Jane Wyman, Sterling Hayden and Nancy Olson. On a personal level, the newest of the three improves over the 1932 effort on a plot developing level leading to a satisfactory conclusion. The similarity of both versions contains that of Selina Peake repeatedly asking her son, "How big is my baby? How big is my boy?" Son replies, "SO Big!" hence the title of the book.
Aside from being relatively known to film scholars as the one where future superstars Barbara Stanwyck and Bette Davis appear in the same movie, but barely the same scenes, the film itself had been unavailable for viewing for many years, with the possibility of never to be seen or heard from again. It took a cable station such as Turner Classic Movies to bring this long unseen edition back from the dead, making its long awaited television premiere of clear picture quantity on November 18, 1999. In spite of few highlights of interest, and having to wait eternity for the appearance of Bette Davis and George Brent, SO BIG, with Stanwyck's ability to hold audience's attention throughout, still ranks one as worthy of both rediscovery and recognition, even if this story of a woman is not so big. (***)
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