A genuine 1950s soap-opera melodrama set among the upper-crust of Philadelphia society, this Warner Brothers film comes complete with infidelities, suicides, seductions, ambition, and plenty of skeletons in closets. Newman once again portrays a wholly confident, ambitious, and seductive
young man, and his performance saves an otherwise average sudser. The film opens with a prolog set in 1924, in which Brewster, a pretty and ambitious girl from the wrong side of the tracks, jilts her lover, Keith, to marry rich socialite West. Much to the newlyweds' dismay, West proves impotent
during the honeymoon. Humiliated, the young millionaire kills himself, leaving Brewster a widow. Brewster immediately flies back into the arms of Keith and conceives his child. Declaring that her baby was fathered by West, Brewster ensures that the child will retain West's name and status.
However, the move does not fool West's mother, and though she cannot prove the child is not her son's, she disinherits both mother and child. Brewster maintains that her son is West's child and raises him as if he were part of the wealthy family--much to Keith's annoyance. Eventually, the boy
grows into Newman and attends Princeton law school, where he does quite well. Newman falls in love with Rush, the daughter of prominent lawyer Williams, but Williams does not like Newman much and offers him a job in his law office if he will stay away from his daughter. The success-driven Newman
immediately accepts the offer and the shocked Rush marries another man, Eisley, on the rebound. Soon after the wedding, Eisley is drafted and killed in the Korean Conflict. When Newman sees a chance to get a good position with powerful lawyer Kruger, he launches into a subtle seduction of the
attorney's frustrated wife, Smith, so that she will ensure his success. His rise to prominence is put on hold when Newman is drafted and goes off to Korea with school chum Vaughn. Vaughn loses an arm in battle and both men eventually return to Philadelphia, where Newman picks up where he left off
working for Kruger's firm. Newman attempts to rekindle his romance with Rush--now a widow--and further stretches his influence by gaining the confidence of Burke, one of the richest women in the country. Eventually politics calls Newman; his ambitions are sidetracked, however, when he learns that
his pal Vaughn has been arrested for murdering his rich uncle. Rising to Vaughn's defense, Newman launches into the case with his usual zeal. Conroy, a relative of the dead man who does not want to see Vaughn set free, threatens to reveal the true nature of Newman's parentage. Rather than have the
truth revealed by a stranger, Brewster and Keith finally tell Newman that they are his parents. Unfazed, Newman continues his defense of Vaughn, despite the chance that the revelation could ruin his political career. At the trial, Newman introduces evidence that proves Vaughn's uncle committed
suicide and the case is closed. Impressed by Newman's willingness to risk his future to save a friend, Rush decides to forgive the young lawyer and start their relationship anew.
Well over two hours long, THE YOUNG PHILADELPHIANS moves fairly quickly through a variety of melodramatic situations. Based on a very popular novel, the film is a competent but undistinguished adaptation that breathes only through the presence of its dynamic star. The supporting players are solid,
but are never given much to do by the script or by veteran director Sherman. In the hands of a master-dramatist like director Douglas Sirk, THE YOUNG PHILADELPHIANS might have been imbued with more insight, intelligence, and passion, propelling the soap-opera material into the realm of film art.
Vaughn earned an Oscar nomination for his supporting performance, and the picture was also nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design.
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