A Good Close-up of the Depression
Author: aimless-46 from Kentucky
29 April 2006
Taking advantage of Hollywood’s ample supply of British actors in the 1930’s, MGM set this depression-era film in an English department store. But the two stars are American actors Lewis Stone (best known for his appearances as Judge Hardy) and Lionel Barrymore. Barrymore received top billing on the titles although Stone’s part is considerably larger. Both are a treat to watch, especially their scenes together, and the script (adapted from a play) is high brow enough that the mix of British and American accents is not that disruptive.
Stone is excellent as Gabriel Service, the owner of a financially troubled up-scale department store headed toward bankruptcy as a result of the depression. A competitor offers to buy the store but will not promise to retain the staff. Service is a very paternalistic owner and wants to do what is best for his employees, but he knows that declining the offer puts the long- term financial security of his family at considerable risk.
Barrymore plays Tim Benton, a 40 year employee of the store who is among the first group of laid off employees. At this stage of his career Barrymore’s standard character was a version of his grumpy and overbearing Mr. Potter from “It’s a Wonderful Life”; the main variation being whether he was a good guy or a bad guy. But in “Looking Forward” he gets to play a meek accountant with total loyalty to Mr. Service and his store. It’s a refreshing change of pace and this unusual performance is a good reason to watch the film.
Both men have families who for the first time feel the impact of the depression on their life styles. Service has remarried and his new wife Isobel (Benita Hume) is much younger. She is carrying on not so discreetly with another man and obviously just married Service for his money. For some reason the gold-digging younger wife was a staple of the films during this era.
The title of the film, from a speech made by FDR during the depths of the depression, is explained by the opening credits. The theme is how economic pressures impact personal relationships and aspirations. The early narrative establishes the domino effect of the depression as Benton’s layoff also causes the layoff of a struggling mother who helps his wife on a part-time basis. The upbeat ending illustrates the somewhat “Pollyanna” notion that adversity causes people to rise to the occasion and find new ways to be productive.
This pleasant little film is well crafted but nothing spectacular. It is a nice time capsule of the depression era, historically interesting not just because Hollywood felt the need to make an uplifting film, but because viewers flocked to the theatre seeking the comforting and motivational messages delivered by this type of entertainment.
Author: planktonrules from Bradenton, Florida
9 November 2010
This is one of the better Depression era films I have seen, as it not only encapsulated what this period was like but had exceptional writing that avoided clichés. And, thanks to exceptional acting, it’s well worth seeking out the next time it appears on Turner Classic Movies.
The film is the story of two men who work at the same old family department store–the boss (Lewis Stone) and a lowly career employee (Lionel Barrymore). Both men are in trouble at work. Barrymore is reluctantly let go after 40 years on the job. No matter how sentimental and loyal his boss (Stone) is, the company is in serious trouble and cutbacks must take place. And, when Stone realizes his company is about to go bankrupt, he, too, is seriously affected. However, what really makes the movie exciting is how their families react to the crisis. While it seemed less surprising how Barrymore’s family responded, Stone’s family was exciting to watch. I could say a lot more–but I just don’t want to spoil it for you.
The bottom line is that the movie is exquisitely written and acted. It’s also a nice film to offer some hope to Depression-weary audiences–and not in a phoney or formulaic manner. If you enjoy this film, also try “Sweepings–another Barrymore film that is about a company in crisis.
L Barrymore lesser known work
Author: ksf-2 from southwest US
28 April 2009
Set in Great Britain, everyone except Barrymore has a British accent. He is a bookkeeper for a large firm, and is let go by the president of the firm. Filmed in 1933, its a statement on the depression, and the lack of available jobs. How timely that Turner Classics shows this now, as this is occurring today all over the U.S. Barrymore is Tim Benton, father to Elsie (Viva Tattersall) and the dashing Willie ( Douglas Walton). Viewers will recognize Lewis Stone as Mr. Service, the head of the firm that fired Benton. Stone and Barrymore had been in Grand Hotel together in 1932. We see the contrast between Service’s family and Benton’s family, and how they are all forced to cut back. The actresses playing the wives, Mrs. Benton ( Doris Lloyd) and Mrs. Service ( Benita Hume) were both from England, and came by their accents naturally. Everyone does a fine job, although it DOES run like a play (on which it is based)…. we don’t really see any character development or emotions… it’s all action-based, and moves right along. Directed and produced by Clarence Brown, who had worked several times with Greta Garbo and Barrymore. Garbo was ALSO in Grand Hotel, which may explain the connection to Stone and Barrymore. One of Barrymore’s lesser known works…. he made Dinner at Eight (and SIX other films) the same year!
Strong Performances by Barrymore and Stone
Author: Michael_Elliott from Louisville, KY
27 November 2009
Looking Forward (1933)
*** (out of 4)
Extremely well-acted drama from MGM is a rather depressing tale during its first half only to pour too much sugar during the second part. The film takes place during the Depression as Lewis Stone is forced with the fact that his department store is losing too much money and he is forced to lay off several people including one (Lionel Barrymore) who has been with the company for over forty-years. Soon things are getting even worse and Lewis finds himself nearly broke when someone makes an offer for his store. Barrymore gets top-billing and his name over the title but he’s got a rather small role and only appears at the start and end of the film. The movie clearly belongs to Stone who turns in a marvelous performance and really makes this film worth seeking. The Depression-era tone of the film certainly fits in well today and one can’t help but feel a lot of the messages being said in this movie could be said today. There are some truly depressing moments in this film including the start where Lewis has to lay off Barrymore.
The acting these two give during this sequence is certainly spell bounding as they both perfectly nail the situation and really make you feel everything their characters are saying. Barrymore perfectly captures the depression of his character early on and then matches the happiness that would later follow. Colin Clive of FRANKENSTEIN fame has a small role here that doesn’t give him too much to do but fans of the horror genre will still enjoy seeing him. The films title was taken from a speech given by F.D.R. and there’s no question that the heart was in the right place even though the final third has way too much sugar than what was really needed. Considering a real Depression was going on, it’s understandable that the studio wanted to say something with this film so I’m sure it worked better back when it was released. Fans of the two actors will certainly want to check this one out as both men give wonderful performances.