Here’s a movie that’s signed onto the pro-orphan agenda that certain special interests groups continuously push in this country. It’s one of those do-gooder fairy tales where stuff like suicides and dead kids occur at convenient intervals just so that our heroine can be inspired to new heights of self-sacrifice while the audience is inspired to new depths of self-loathing for ever firing up a movie about a woman who crusades to have Texas’ law about illegitimate kids having to be identified as such on birth certificates and marriage licenses changed.
Naturally, this is all presented as some sort of discrimination and the folks from the good families who oppose any legislation that would essentially legalize slutty behavior are depicted as narrow-minded meanies who don’t like kids. In fact, star Greer Garson practically sneers at them when they say that the changes she demands would cause an outbreak of teen pregnancy. All of us taxpayers know how that turned out! Thanks, Greer!
Though based on a true story, things get off to a creaky start when we meet Edna Gladney and her idyllic existence in Wisconsin. She has a sister named Charlotte who is actually a foundling and they are both planning to be married simultaneously. Shortly before the wedding though Edna meets Sam Gladney down at the bank and he gets fresh with her by telling her that he is going to marry her even though she is engaged to someone else and he is just visiting from Texas.
Sam is played by Walter Pidgeon and this movie marks the first of eight pairings between him and Garson (see also Mrs. Parkington). He’s playing a fairly easygoing chap in this one, but was hampered by a lack of a mustache that alternately made me think I was watching Mr. Bean or Lon Chaney, Jr.
Somehow or other he manages to weasel his way into her heart and writes to her from Texas and comes back six months later to marry her. Charlotte is also going to be married (I thought she was getting married six months ago!) but there’s a hitch to getting hitched when the parents of her fiancé find out that she doesn’t know who her daddy is!
While that would be something most of us would be glad of, back at the turn of the Twentieth Century this is the sort of thing that would cause Charlotte to haul ass off to her room to kill herself!
Don’t mourn for Charlotte though because eventually her death would spur Edna to reform Texas’ laws against illegitimate brats. This is certainly more than she would have ever accomplished had she not offed herself!
Edna and Sam go ahead and get married, move down to Texas and start their own family. They have a son, a prissy little thing in short pants and you immediately start to salivate since you know he’s marked for death (it’s a rule of the universe that the only time anyone has any interest in orphans and stuff like that is when their real kid croaks and they can’t have any more) and you’re practically licking your lips like the big bad wolf when granny takes him out for a ride in a horse drawn carriage. Kids and horses in these movies mix about as well as pregnant chicks and staircases.
Fast forward a few years and Edna is trying to cover the emptiness of her life (when she had the first kid, the doctor said she would never be able to have another due to the requirements of the plot) by hosting elaborate parties and boozing it up.
Sam is disturbed that his wife now sucks so he has their doctor drop off an kid at their house for the night (What a cool husband!) to try and shake her out it, but she just gets pissed. In a moment that shows some of the problems this movie suffers from, the very next scene has Edna running a day care center!
There are some pretty choppy transitions in this one. Stuff just sort of happens for no reason other than there were certain points that needed to be made and sometimes there were plot elements that didn’t exist to set up anything at all! (I’m thinking of a pretty lame and barely touched upon blackmail angle in particular.)
Sam manages to die at an opportune moment as far as Edna’s crusade goes. As he literally lies on his death bed, he reveals that someone has purchased his new grain processing method which should provide some cash for Edna and her little brats!
When a woman shows up at her orphanage in the same situation as Charlotte, right down to her suicidal ideations, Edna immediately heads down to Austin or the Alamo or wherever these cowboys have their government and demands the law be changed so that new birth certificates will be printed up. If I was in charge, I would have said “sure thing Toots, but you’re going to be the one typing up five million birth certificates. Hope you packed an IBM Selectric in there along with your moral outrage.”
This is one of those one dimensional glowing biographies of someone that Hollywood probably patted itself on the back for making. As such, its historical importance is minimal and its entertainment value is nil. Garson and Pigeon do show us the makings of why they would appear in seven other pictures together as their scenes with one another are solid enough, but he goes and croaks and she gets caught up in being a tireless martyr and is there anything more tiresome than that?
I suppose I should be glad that the movie stopped when it did and didn’t detail the real-life Edna’s efforts to get Texas’ inheritance laws changed for adopted kids. Bundle this one up in a blanket and drop it on the doorstep of your local church in the middle of the night and just pretend it all was a bad case of indigestion.
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