On Borrowed Time

  • 1939
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Drama

Barrymore is a crotchety old man (as usual) trying to raise his grandson, Watson, after the demise of the latter's parents and of Barrymore's wife. With Death such a frequent visitor, Barrymore has little trouble recognizing him in the form of Hardwicke when the Reaper comes for the grandfather. Barrymore proves too cagy for him, though, and chases him...read more

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Barrymore is a crotchety old man (as usual) trying to raise his grandson, Watson, after the demise of the latter's parents and of Barrymore's wife. With Death such a frequent visitor, Barrymore has little trouble recognizing him in the form of Hardwicke when the Reaper comes for the

grandfather. Barrymore proves too cagy for him, though, and chases him up an apple tree, from which Hardwicke is unable to come down until the old man releases him. The two engage in long, philosophical discussions about life and death while Hardwicke tries to make Barrymore understand the

importance of his mission. Barrymore begins to realize that since he captured Hardwicke no one in town has been dying, a mixed blessing. Barrymore knows he can't keep Hardwicke up the tree forever, and he tries to prepare for his own passing, especially to ensure that Watson won't have to be

raised by maiden aunt Malyon. Hardwicke manages to use his wiles to coax Watson into climbing the tree, where Death still has dominion (as demonstrated when he fells a squirrel just by pointing his finger), then makes the boy fall. His neck is broken and, unable to die, he will have to live as a

quadriplegic the rest of his life. Barrymore now realizes the folly of his actions and lets Hardwicke down from the tree to claim him and the boy, who are last seen walking through a celestial pasture. This charming allegory doesn't pack the punch of the original Broadway production, mostly due to

the considerable bad language in the stage version, which had to be cut for the sake of movie audiences. Still, the film's message about the folly of fearing and trying to stave off death comes through. The performances are mostly first rate, particularly Hardwicke's, who claimed this was his

favorite film role. Afterwards, while continuing with stage work, he took up residence in Hollywood to concentrate on his film career.

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  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Barrymore is a crotchety old man (as usual) trying to raise his grandson, Watson, after the demise of the latter's parents and of Barrymore's wife. With Death such a frequent visitor, Barrymore has little trouble recognizing him in the form of Hardwicke wh… (more)

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