Saturday, September 2, 2017

These Wilder Years

I recently watched These Wilder Years off my DVR since it's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive Collection.

James Cagney, about 55 at the time and really much too old for the role, plays Steve Bradford, a wealthy businessman. He comes into a board meeting one day and tells everybody he's taking a leave of absence for a personal matter. He goes to some Hollywood version of a midwestern small city, making his way to the Haven, a school for a certain type of girl.

It turns out that the Haven is a place where young women who have gotten knocked up out of wedlock can go to have their babies and put them up for adoption. Twenty years ago, Steve knocked up a girl and the two of them decided to put the baby up for adoption. Steve never got married, and feels an emptiness in his life, so he's going to Haven to find his child.

Of course, back in those days, the adoption records were strictly sealed, so Ann (Barbara Stanwyck), the woman who runs Haven, isn't about to let Steve have them. Steve, for his part, is a rich SOB who's used to geting his way, so he hires high-priced lawyer Rayburn (Walter Pidgeon) to sue and get the records released.

Set against this is young Suzie (Betty Lou Keim), a girl who has gotten herself knocked up and ran away from home to have the baby at Haven and put it up for adoption. Steve takes a liking to Suzie in a fatherly way.

These Wilder Years is exactly the sort of pabulum you'd expect from an MGM movie of the 40s, although this one was released in 1956. The script is didactic and close to moralizing at times, with a whole bunch of plot holes and timeline problems. And then it's revealed at the end that Steve's kid got the adoption information, which seems like a violation of policy that's totally overlooked. The characters are uniformly one-dimensional and although everybody tries hard, they're doomed by the story and script.

It's a shame that great actors like Cagney and Stanwyck wound up in movies like this later in their career. But as I've mentioned on other occasions, every actor if their career goes long enough winds up in a couple of serious misfires. These Wilder Years is one of those misfires for Cagney and Stanwyck.

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