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The Human Comedy

Draft Review by Dean Duncan Jun 16, 2015

Fascinating wartime propaganda, which makes sure to acknowledge death and sorrow even as it pulls out all the consolation stops, the presiding/framing angels insure us that God (though He’s only officially referenced in the very bold direct address scene on the troupe train, during which one can imagine audiences joining in to sing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arm” [what Mitchum, plain and typed here, would do with that song in a decade!]) is watching over all, which is decidedly more emphatic and comforting than the strange distancing that ends Our Town, by which this had to have been inspired; the tone’s more straightforward, but there’s the same celebration of the universal joys and sorrows of humanity, the same compelling willingness to let the sorrows and the injustices be, here Wilder’s Benet/Rogers-like down home wisdom gives way to a very literary, sometimes poetic (old man and the apricot tree, Mom talking about the same black man going home on the same train everyday) and sometimes pompous (telegraph guy driving past the token ethnics, four-eyed kid in the library) mode; also Wilder’s 2-home monochrome is replaced by an almost tokenistic canvas with old and young, poor and rich–the statement of conflict and the resolution between the two hurdling boys vying for the same girl is surprisingly subtle and effective, and if the society gal/working stiff marriage is regrettably stiff, then at least the society parents are a pleasantly nuanced surprise–white and not portrait; the more didactic it is, the stickier it gets, meaning the orphan boy replacing the dead brother, and most everything with that sappy dead brother, is gross, but elsewhere it’s a Clarence Brown film, which means, I think, that there’s a pictorialist’s eye and a fine director’s way with scenes and actors, Mickey Rooney is somehow toned down, as if he’s a real boy not yet aware of his gifts and talents, and he’s tremendously effective, some of the dialogue exchanges (Homer and Ulysses exersizing upstairs, Homer discoursing on prayer, the teacher talking about class society) have the kind of intonations and overlaps and looseness that make us believe them as real talk even as we admire the obviously artificial eloquence of what’s being said