Smilin’ Through (1932) film review

This version of Smilin’ Through resonates deep in my heart as one of the beloved, treasured and memorable classics of all time. Directed by American film producer/director Sidney Franklin (March 21st, 1893-May 18th, 1972), who also directed the 1922 film version, with a screenplay written by American screenwriter/author Donald Ogden Stewart (November 30th, 1894-August 2nd, 1984), Irish born playwright, actor, producer and theatre manager James Bernard Fagan (May 18th, 1873-February 17th, 1933), the Hungarian playwright, actor and novelist Ernest Vajda (May 27th, 1886-April 3rd, 1954) and Claudine West, the film was based on the hit 1912 Broadway play of the same name by American film/stage actress and playwright Jane Cowl (December 14th, 1883-June 22nd, 1950) & American screenwriter/playwright Jane Murfin (October 27th, 1884-August 10th, 1955) that premiered on December 13th, 1919. The play became one of Cowl’s greatest commercial successes and ran for 175 performances with a stellar cast of characters that included Orme Caldara as both Kenneth & Jeremiah Wayne, British character actor Henry Stephenson portraying John Carteret & Ethelbert D. Hales as Dr. Owen Harding among the other featured cast. First filmed in 1922 by First National Pictures with American film actress/producer Norma Tallmadge (May 2nd, 1894-December 24th, 1957) and the Broadway theatre/silent film actor Harrison Ford (March 16th, 1884-December 2nd, 1957) whom the latter bears no relation to the modern but immensely talented actor of the same name in the lead roles, it was later remade twice via MGM including this film adaptation as well as the 1941 version filmed in Technicolor starring the captivating American singer/actress Jeanette MacDonald (June 18th, 1903-January 14th, 1965), the stage/silver screen British actor Brian Aherne (May 2nd, 1902-February 10th, 1986) and British character actor Ian Hunter (June 13th, 1900-September 22nd, 1975). Interestingly enough, the title song became a popular but deeply remembered standard for decades and has also become a cherished favorite for so many classic movie lovers with its countless interpretations by such luminaries of the silver screen as Nelson Eddy, Judy Garland, Jeanette MacDonald and of course Norma Shearer (one of my favorites, especially when I first viewed Ms. Shearer singing Smilin’ Through and the way my eyes gleamed with a bittersweet sting of tears that also produced a comforting aura of blissful happiness) with the lyrics and music credited by Arthur A. Penn/William Axt; even though it was also remade into an unsuccessful 1932 operetta entitled Through the Years (with music by American Broadway producer/popular composer Vincent Youmans), the title song of that same operetta also became a hit just like in the previous 1932 film version and the later 1941 version. This 1932 romantic drama starred Howard as Sir John Carteret along with Academy Award winning actress Norma Shearer (August 10th, 1902-June 12th, 1983) as Kathleen and Moonyeen Clare, two time Academy Award winning stage/film actor Fredric March (August 31st, 1897-April 14th , 1975) in a credited appearance as Kathleen’s devoted love interest Kenneth Wayne & an uncredited appearance as Jeremy Wayne, Australian theatre/film actor O.P. Heggie (September 17th, 1877-February 7th, 1936) as John’s close friend Dr, Owen, James Bush as a young party guest (uncredited), Cora Sue Collins as Moonyean’s niece Kathleen (uncredited) whose parents tragically died at sea, noted English stage/American cinema actor Ralph Forbes (September 30th, 1904-March 31st, 1954) as Kathleen’s childhood friend Willie Ainley who deep down really loves and adores her tremendously, Spanish born American-based silver screen actress Beryl Mercer (August 13th, 1882-July 28th, 1939) as Mrs. Crouch, the restaurant shop owner who finds the couple to be in love w/o a doubt and with whom they’ve grown a close, shared and deeply amicable bond (even if that bond may be shared between sweet and savory bites of infinite paradise and heavenly bliss), American film actress Margaret Seddon (November 18th, 1872-April 17th, 1968) portrays Ellen the maid, the Irish born film actor Forrester Harvey (June 27th, 1884-December 14th, 1945) as the Orderly who wants nothing more in his life than a swig of a vintage ‘47 Port wine, British stage/screen actor Herbert Bunston (October 21st, 1870-February 27th, 1935) in an uncredited appearance as the Minister who marries John and Moonyean Clare, WAMPAS Baby Stars of 1932 & retired American film actress/singer Mary Carlisle (b. February 3rd, 1912 in Boston Massachusetts) makes an uncredited appearance as a young party guest, English actor and founder of SAG Claude King (January 15th, 1875-September 18th, 1941) in an uncredited appearance as Moonyean’s father Richard Clare and finally the Scottish born film actor David Torrence (January 17th, 1864-December 26th, 1951) in an unaccredited film appearance as the Gardner. I would’ve loved for Smilin’ Through to air on Turner Classic Movies again; ever since I first watched it, I’ve wanted to view it again and was deeply hoping for another airing (especially considering that TCM will also air the 1948 film jewel Letter from an Unknown Woman as part of their salute to the prolific influential German-born film director Max Ophuls (May 6th, 1902-March 26th, 1957). When Smilin’ Through was unable to air on TCM, I was able to view it still via YouTube even if it’s unavailable to own on DVD and since then I’m very happy that I did! Even the film is only 98 minutes, it’s the most memorable 98 minutes for anyone who genuinely loves classic films and can fully appreciate the cinematic rarity, splendor, refinement and awe-inspiring ingenuity it’s selflessly brought forth via the Golden Age of Hollywood. The cast is outstanding and immensely talented: Fredric March portrays Kenneth Wayne, the son of Carteret’s old foe Jeremy Wayne (who despite John’s animosity towards him, genuinely and deeply loves Kathleen). Through thick and thin, he remains a loving companion for Kathleen; but a wartime injury threatens their inseparable but amorous bond that they share and hold dearly. One of my favorite scenes is where Kenneth finally comes home: when you look deep into Kenneth (March) character’s eyes, you could immediately feel a pang of anguish, grief, anger and profound sadness that emanates from his injury and yet we deeply understand/sympathize what he’s going through. Despite the anger that he feels from what he’s been though, the denial that eventually ensues through a blatant apathetic reciprocation of their love for each other (via being stubborn, not able to tell Kathleen about his situation and not accepting the fact that she loves him dearly no matter what) and the distant cold revelation that stands between them, even though he knows that in doing so he may lose her forever and that the pain which is inflicted tremendously through his poignant harrowing cries of sadness, hopelessness and despair candidly depicts that fact indefinitely but with reflective understanding and empathy for his sorrows! Ms. Norma Shearer gives an astounding performance as Kathleen/Moonyean Clare; two years after her Oscar winning performance in the pre-Code drama The Divorcee, Shearer proclaims a well deserved place in American cinema history with these performances. As Kathleen, she displays a softer, subtle but more benevolent approach to her character and it pays off with greater rewards; but as Moonyean, Norma depicts the same persona but more refined, humbled and captivating even if the looming foreboding threat of Jeremy’s jealousy during her wondrous, special moment of matrimony consumes her very existence and she pays with a much deeper price that ultimately proves to be the downfall for Jeremy. Finally the individual who embodies a masterful individuality of the character thoroughly represented in the film is none other than Leslie Howard; as the wealthy but seemingly lovelorn Sir John Carteret (due in part to the tragic death of his beloved Moonyean by her drunken ex-fiancee Jeremy and the spiteful hatred that emerges from guilt, depression, anger and hurt instilled even deeper by Kathleen’s love for Kenneth), Howard gives the classic film audience a role worth remembering for all classic film lovers as he exemplifies the sheer ingenuity, benevolence and sincerity that has continued to inspire so many individuals who have come to appreciate his body of work (myself included w/o a doubt)– throughout his stage/film career, he’s also manifested an enigmatic screen presence, a cultivated flair for compassionate and sophisticated entities & a quiet but profoundly strong aura via authority, charm, debonair or the quintessential transcending actor of the English theatre/silver screen that has become a cinematic articulation in his picturesque limelight of classic films here on Turner Classic Movies! As the film climaxes, we realize that even though John feels resentment/bitterness for Kenneth, he knows that apathy is NOT what he genuinely feels for him and so he gives Kathleen his blessing; for so long the enduring love/ghost of Moonyean has guided him into the right direction, has comforted him throughout his trials and tribulations & has become the sole reason of him wanting to live/be alive. After his realization that Kathleen’s happiness, peace and joy exists deeply from Kenneth’s love for her and so much more, John moves on and accepts the fact that he cannot change the past nor predict the future but can only concentrate on the present; the ending of the film was a scene that will emanate in my heart because to me it lets me know that a true love like theirs will never die and that they’ll remain together forever as one! Produced by American film producer, director and screenwriter Albert Lewin (September 23rd, 1894-May 9th, 1968) and distributed by MGM Studios on September 24th, 1932, Smilin’ Through received its sole Academy Award nomination as Best Picture of the Year (losing to Cavalcade during the 6th Annual Academy Awards held on March 16th, 1934); despite not winning the coveted golden statuette, Smilin’ Through makes up for it in the fact that it’s the type of classic film jewel that’s indescribable to put into words, that there’s no singular honor in which it can give cinematic justice for (excluding the restoration/preservation of the film of course) and that it will always be a film that not too many would know much about, but whose lasting impact and picturesque legacy still echoes with classic film lovers who have/have not seen the film. I’m very grateful that I had a second opportunity to view 1932s Smilin’ Though and I highly recommend that you view it as well; the joys and infinite pleasures that comes from watching a classic film can make an even bigger and greater difference later on in life–for the wonders of these treasure troves like Smilin’ Through will last a lifetime and for generations to come through the hearts and souls of countless classic film lovers everywhere.

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