Thursday, March 17, 2016

OVP: Edward, My Son (1949)

Film: Edward, My Son (1949)
Stars: Spencer Tracy, Deborah Kerr, Ian Hunter, Mervyn Johns, Leueen MacGrath
Director: George Cukor
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Actress-Deborah Kerr)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

I have never quite gotten the Academy's fascination with one Spencer Bonaventure Tracy (yes, that is somehow his middle name-who would have thought with such boring first and surnames that his parents would go all sorts of obscure Catholic saint on his middle)?  Tracy's films are of course in the Academy's wheelhouse (stoic dramas and sappy issue pictures), but there are just SO many of them and I am stunned the public was so into him so consistently for decades on end considering he's a relatively mundane presence and his only really great attribute is that he gives a fine soliloquy (he's one of those actors who seemed perfect for the stage, but the cinema just feels less matinee when he's on it).  Either way, here we have yet another of Tracy's many, many Oscar-nominated films, though at least it isn't Tracy amassing to his seismic nominations count and instead his British costar Deborah Kerr added to her impressive one.

(Spoilers Ahead) Based on the successful play by Donald Ogden Stewart, the movie is the story of Arnold Boult and his wife Evelyn, who have recently had a child and are living in a relatively modest existence, but are happy and love each other.  As the film progresses, Arnold's ventures in business become more corrupt but insanely successful, but as a result his child is spoiled and his wife becomes increasingly unhappy, to the point where they both start up affairs (though in Evelyn's case it's more emotional than physical).  The film goes on with Evelyn eventually going to the bottle and dying (and having an hilarious little hair-and-makeup moment where she suddenly ages 900 years from indulging in the bottle-the producers kind of went bombastic), and with Edward eventually dying as well after performing a stunt without permission and then killing his crew in the Air Force, Arnold is forced to finally have a reckoning with his life.

The film is striking in very few ways, but one of the ways it is how it ends, actually.  The film is drab and dull, and the performances are overcooked, but the ending is actually quite interesting, and in some ways resembles the way Rod Sterling would have ended the film.  When Arnold discovers that his son had a child out of wedlock, he tries initially to spoil the child and find it and make it a replacement to Edward.  However, a friend of his, who knows where the child is, refuses because he doesn't want the child to end up like Edward.  After this altercation Arnold ends up in jail, and in most films, he would have had his comeuppance after having his son and wife die, along with going to the pokey, but here the film actually has him continuing to not see the err in his ways, wanting to find his lost grandchild and spoil it by giving it "everything it needs."  It's the sort of ending that clearly feels cribbed from the harsher universe of the theater rather than the calmer, warmer cinema where he would have had a less indulgent parenting style with the child.

This is the only thing to lend itself to the film.  There are moments in Deborah Kerr's nominated performance, especially in the middle when she's trying to find a balance between her newfound wealth and stature and her struggles with her husband's failing morality that feel like it might make the picture more special, but as the film progresses and the ladylike Kerr is forced to become a raging, aging alcoholic she cannot seem to muster such a performance and it feels dangerously close to histrionics.  She's still more interesting than Tracy, but I think that's just because I like Kerr in general and not Tracy in general, so all things being even she's going to win.  As it is, though, Kerr is hardly at her finest here and cannot save the film which is overly preachy and cannot sustain the plot.  Also, I get why they didn't cast anyone to play Edward (he's always off-screen both in the movie and play), but it feels more gimmicky than neat, and as a result I feel like they might have gained if we had an Edward to project upon since the script doesn't feel rich enough to carry his absence.

Those are my thoughts on this late 1940's film.  Anyone want to rush to its defense?  I greatly favored Olivia de Havilland's excellent work in The Heiress, but does someone want to make the case that this is the film Kerr deserved her elusive Oscar for?  Share your thoughts below in the comments!

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