Sloppily sentimental in spots and brilliantly moving in others, overall this is a wonderful film, thanks to Rooney's fine effort and to the little boy that almost stole it all from him on celluloid, the marvelous "Butch" Jenkins. Collins is the narrator of the story, speaking from
somewhere in the spirit world since he's been dead for two years when he decides to return to the family homestead in idealized Ithaca, California. He oversees the lives of his family, consisting of wife Bainter; grown son Johnson, a private in the Army; daughter Reed, a college student; teenage
son Rooney, a high school junior; and precocious four-year-old Jenkins. Close to the family is Johnson's childhood sweetheart and the girl next door, Morris, and Craig, the operator of the local telegraph office for which lovable drunk Morgan works and Rooney delivers telegrams when not in school.
There's also Craven, who has been orphaned and is Johnson's service pal, who is later "adopted" by Collins' warm-hearted family when Johnson is killed in battle. It's a study in everyday life and presents the little joys of childhood, the triumphs of adulthood, and the everyday tragedy that the
war brought with telegrams delivered by Rooney, telegrams that meant only one thing--death or wounding of a loved one. The burden of delivering these heart-tearing missives wears so heavily upon Rooney that, at one point, he thinks of leaving home, but his little brother innocently talks him out
of the notion. Craig is solid as the supportive telegraph office boss and Morgan's whiskey-laced, down-home philosophy is both quaint and humorous. Rooney is sensational as the human link between families as he makes his rounds via bicycle, touching one life after another and being touched by each
person he meets. The emotion he poured into, this, his finest role, shows in his youthful admiration for big brother Johnson, love for mother and sister, and protective tolerance for kid brother Jenkins. Jenkins himself almost takes every scene from the ebullient Rooney.
This was MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer's favorite film. His favorite scene of was the opening where "Butch" Jenkins is peering in rapture at a gopher hole. From the first moment producer Arthur Freed introduced Saroyan to Mayer, the mogul was taken by the fast-talking, utterly charming Armenian from
Fresno, California (the actual setting for THE HUMAN COMEDY), and Mayer later asked Freed to offer the writer a job at MGM. At the time Saroyan was the rage, an enfant terrible who bluntly spoke his mind and whose stories captivated the American reading public in the late 1930s. His tempestuous
talkathon play, "The Time of Your Life," won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 and his career shotd upward. Freed came back to Mayer, telling him that Saroyan didn't want to write for the movies, a stance Mayer could not understand. He told Freed to offer Saroyan $300 a week just to hang around the
studio (and basically spend his time amusing Mayer with his Armenian stories, which reminded the mogul of Jewish family life that was no more). Saroyan took the job, such as it was, but never showed up at the studio, let alone dropped by to pick up his paychecks. Freed finally tracked the writer
down in Fresno and convinced him to write a story for the studio. The result was "The Human Comedy" which Mayer had read to him three times, weeping at each reading. Mayer wanted to film the story instantly but Saroyan's asking price of $300,000 was astronomical at that time. Mayer met with
Saroyan and offered him $50,000. He later compromised and paid Saroyan $60,000, plus $1,500 a week for writing the script. Mayer told his cronies that he would turn Saroyan into another Irving Thalberg, a bright new producer-director. But when it came time to commit himself, Mayer refused to let
Saroyan direct THE HUMAN COMEDY, which angered the volatile Armenian. Later he wrote a play called "Get Away Old Man," a vicious little drama that savaged Louis B. Mayer, his one-time admirer and benefactor. THE HUMAN COMEDY earned Oscar nominations for Best Picture (losing to CASABLANCA), Best
Actor (Rooney lost to Paul Lukas for WATCH ON THE RHINE), Best Director, and Best Black-and-White Cinematography, and won for Saroyan's original story.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Sloppily sentimental in spots and brilliantly moving in others, overall this is a wonderful film, thanks to Rooney's fine effort and to the little boy that almost stole it all from him on celluloid, the marvelous "Butch" Jenkins. Collins is the narrator of… (more)