Today is WIZ’s fifth birthday! To celebrate that and LONNOL Month, we’re giving away TWO free silver screen classics from days of yore for your viewing pleasure!
This first is a rerun from a previous WIZ Retro Review Giveaway, but it’s one of my favorite old flicks. Come Next Spring is a generous story with a quiet but strong heart. Like many of these older films, rather than relying on in-your-face action sequences and special effects, loud soundtracks, and romantic drama that glues a box-office-compatible couple to center stage, Come Next Spring turns on resonant dialogue and actual, honest questions about family and community relations.
The story: recovering alcoholic Matt Ballot (Steve Cochran) returns to his Arkansas farm and the wife, Beth, and daughter, Annie, whom he abandoned twelve years earlier. He’s more than a little interested to see what’s become of them since he left. As he walks down the home stretch, he meets Annie. Annie is a voiceless creature who keeps company with animals but runs away from her father, who doesn’t recognize her. When Matt reaches the old homestead, he’s surprised to discover not only that his stoical and resourceful wife Bess (played beautifully by Ann Sheridan) has held everything together quite well without him but also that he has a delightful son, Abraham (Richard Eyer), born after Matt ran out on the family.
In Matt’s absence, Beth has acquired a sort-of suitor, a thugish man who finds Matt’s return a threat to his own plans. Beside all that, the small, rural, hard-bitten Arkansas town where Matt’s family has been living and doing business is accustomed to thinking of Matt as a coward and an irredeemable alcoholic. Despite the fact that twelve years have passed since Matt went AWOL from home and community, the town and its residents have remained the same. The townsfolk expect that Matt will do the same thing he did before–disappear suddenly, once again leaving them to their predicaments of poverty and stopped time. Matt takes their doubt, disdain, and baiting with patience, all the while making his way back into the town’s affairs and into his wife’s affections.
Come Next Spring is a tender and intelligent drama about failure, redemption, and new possibilities. Set in the 1920s, the movie’s rural backdrop and script paint a smart portrait of entwinements–broken and mended–between people and the land upon which they live. Come Next Spring’s magic relies on no wizards, time-traveling warriors, or supernatural beings for its power, only the equally deep mystery of how a common man’s change of heart can spread like spring to break the grip of an intractable winter. Veteran character actors Walter Brennan and Edgar Buchanan turn out respectable performances as Jeff Story and Mr. Canary, respectively–two, long-time residents of the town. Their voices lend a nice, folksy texture to the dialogue. Released in 1956, this early color film features Tony Bennett singing the title song.
WIZ’s second offering: Merrily We Live. Nominated for 5 Oscars, Merrily We Live stars Constance Bennett as Jerry Kilbourne, oldest daughter of a zany pair of socialite parents, featherheaded Emily (Billie Burke–yes, that Billie Burke, Glinda the Good Witch of the South in The Wizard of Oz) and irritable Henry (Clarence Kolb). Emily’s hobby of taking in hoboes to reform them keeps her husband, son, two daughters, and family butler Grosvenor off kilter. But when her latest reform project makes off with the family silver, heartbroken Emily vows “no more tramps,” much to everyone’s relief.
Emily’s resolve shatters when a stranger named Rawlins (Brian Aherne) knocks on her door asking to use the telephone. His unshaven face and ragged attire rekindle Emily’s tramp-reform zest, and before Rawlins quite knows what’s happened, he’s drafted into acting as the family’s chauffeur. Rawlins cleans up nicely, and every single woman in the Kilbourne household—from the cooks to the Kilbournes’ youngest daughter Marian (Bonita Granville)—falls for him—especially Jerry, in spite of her belief that he’s just a tramp. Exasperated that his wife has reneged on her “no more tramps” vow, Mr. Kilbourne tries to drive the intruding clochard out. But a string of outrageous events draws the glib “tramp” even deeper into the family’s confidence, leading him to take up residence in the Kilbourne mansion’s guest room. Grosvenor the butler is scandalized, especially when Rawlins sits down to an elegant family dinner given to impress influential Senator Harlan (Paul Everton).
Snappy dialogue and stunning pratfalls—many of them performed by Clarence Kolb—keep this hilarious, 1938, black-and-white comedy/romance rolling at breakneck speed. Adding to the comedic chaos are the Kilbournes’ two dogs, “Get of the Rug” and “You Too.” These two puppyish great Danes must have kept the cast on their toes. Merrily We Live is a relentlessly funny movie. Many viewers report having to watch it more than once to catch all the gags. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself watching Clarence Kolb’s tipsy scene on the mansion’s stairway at least twice as you wonder, “How did he do that?”
GIVEAWAY RULES: If you would like a DVD of Come Next Spring or Merrily We Live, please leave a comment below. Both movies are very family-friendly. After you leave a comment, I’ll contact you to make shipping arrangements. Also, if you receive a copy of Come Next Spring or Merrily We Live, please consider participating in the promotion and preservation of historic movies by returning to this post and leaving a mini-review in the comments. WIZ’s Retro Reviews tend to get pretty high search rankings.
Also, a word about the quality of these movies: Both are over 50 years old and come from an era when Hollywood did not make much of an effort to preserve and safekeep their productions. Many old films from this era were damaged, suffered problems with sound and visual quality, were exposed to punishing elements, etc. These films are not slick modern productions but survivors of abuse. Nevertheless, viewing and sound quality on both are pretty good, given their age since production.
This offer ends April 31, 2014.