The Human Comedy (1943)

118-120 mins | Comedy-drama | 1943

Director:

Clarence Brown

Producer:

Clarence Brown

Cinematographer:

Harry Stradling

Production Designer:

Cedric Gibbons

Production Company:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
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HISTORY

rThe film's title card reads: "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Presents William Saroyan's The Human Comedy ." Voice-over narration, spoken by the character "Matthew Macauley" (Ray Collins), is heard intermittently throughout the picture. Collins, as a spirit, also appears onscreen in two scenes. Saroyan's novel was based on his screenplay for the film. Like his character "Homer," the teenaged Saroyan worked as a telegraph messenger in Fresno, CA. Later, he worked as the manager of the local Postal Telegraph office. According to contemporary sources, M-G-M bought Saroyan's 240-page script, which he reportedly wrote in about two weeks, in Feb 1942 for approximately $60,000. At the same time, Saroyan was negotiating with M-G-M to produce and direct the picture, and made a short film for the studio as a test piece. In May 1942, after Saroyan had completed the short, A Good Job , M-G-M decided to drop him as director of The Human Comedy and announced that King Vidor was to direct the film. (Sources disagree as to whether Saroyan was dropped because of the poor quality of the short, or because of the length of his script for The Human Comedy .) Angry, Saroyan walked off the M-G-M lot and returned to his home in Central California, where he then wrote the novel version of his story. Modern sources state that Saroyan attempted to buy back his screenplay from M-G-M head Louis B. Mayer, but was refused. In Jul 1942, Clarence Brown was assigned to direct the film, and Howard Estabrook was hired to trim Saroyan's screenplay to a two-hour length. Saroyan's novel was published concurrently with the film's release, and was ... More Less

rThe film's title card reads: "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Presents William Saroyan's The Human Comedy ." Voice-over narration, spoken by the character "Matthew Macauley" (Ray Collins), is heard intermittently throughout the picture. Collins, as a spirit, also appears onscreen in two scenes. Saroyan's novel was based on his screenplay for the film. Like his character "Homer," the teenaged Saroyan worked as a telegraph messenger in Fresno, CA. Later, he worked as the manager of the local Postal Telegraph office. According to contemporary sources, M-G-M bought Saroyan's 240-page script, which he reportedly wrote in about two weeks, in Feb 1942 for approximately $60,000. At the same time, Saroyan was negotiating with M-G-M to produce and direct the picture, and made a short film for the studio as a test piece. In May 1942, after Saroyan had completed the short, A Good Job , M-G-M decided to drop him as director of The Human Comedy and announced that King Vidor was to direct the film. (Sources disagree as to whether Saroyan was dropped because of the poor quality of the short, or because of the length of his script for The Human Comedy .) Angry, Saroyan walked off the M-G-M lot and returned to his home in Central California, where he then wrote the novel version of his story. Modern sources state that Saroyan attempted to buy back his screenplay from M-G-M head Louis B. Mayer, but was refused. In Jul 1942, Clarence Brown was assigned to direct the film, and Howard Estabrook was hired to trim Saroyan's screenplay to a two-hour length. Saroyan's novel was published concurrently with the film's release, and was the Mar 1943 "Book-of-the-Month Club" selection. According to the NYT review, the novel became a best-seller a week after its release.
       Child actor Jack "Butch" Jenkins, son of actress Doris Dudley and grandson of columnist Bide Dudley, made his screen debut in the picture. According to the Var review, which praised his performance as "one of the most natural and outstanding...ever transferred to the screen," Jenkins was "discovered" by Clarence Brown's secretary. Brown went on to direct Jenkins in M-G-M's 1944 film National Velvet . According to modern sources, Jenkins' acting career ended in 1948, after he developed a stutter. His last film was The Bride Goes Wild (see above entry). John Craven, who plays "Tobey George" in the picture, also made his screen debut in The Human Comedy . Craven's father James appears in the picture as well.
       Contemporary news items add the following information about the production: In Aug 1942, Gene Kelly was announced as a cast member in an unspecified part, and Lionel Barrymore was announced in the role of "Willie Grogan." Spring Byington was first cast as "Mrs. Steed." Keenan Wynn was reportedly sought for a role, but was unavailable. Richard Quine, Margaret Wycherly, Howard Every, Kathleen Howard, John Ardizoni, Marjorie Kane , Lee Phelps, Ben Hall, Art Belasco , Del Lawrence, John R. Wald and Horace McNally were announced as cast members, but their participation in the final film has not been confirmed. Although S. Z. Sakall, in the role of "Mr. Ara," Jessie Arnold, Connie Gilchrist, Margaret Armstrong, Sarah Padden, Leila McIntyre and Joseph E. Bernard are listed as cast members in CBCS, they did not appear in the final film. Some scenes in the film were shot at an abandoned Pacific Electric freight station in Santa Monica, CA, the athletic field of North Hollywood High School, Sunland, CA, and the Clarence Brown Ranch in Calabasas, CA. In Aug 1942, HR announced that Brown was scouting locations in Fresno, but it is not known if any scenes were actually shot there. In addition to the above-listed songs, portions of the following songs are heard in the picture: "Rock of Ages," "Cielito lindo," "My Old Kentucky Home" and "Church in the Wildwood." The festival scene includes shots of various ethnic Americans, performing folk dances from their native countries.
       The Human Comedy was generally well-received by critics and earned many accolades. The HR reviewer described the film as "the best picture this reviewer has ever seen," while the DV reviewer called the picture "one of the screen's immortals, destined to leave its mark at the box office as well as on the scrolls of critical praise." According to a Feb 1943 M-G-M publicity item, PCA director Joseph I. Breen declared the film "the greatest motion picture we have ever seen." Modern sources claim that The Human Comedy was Louis B. Mayer's favorite film. The Human Comedy was nominated for Academy Awards in the following categories: Best Picture, Best Actor (Mickey Rooney), Best Director and Best Cinematography (black and white). Saroyan won the Oscar for Best Writing (Original Story). In addition, the film earned one of the Motion Picture Research Bureau's best audience ratings, and was named the best film of 1943 by the Canadian Department of National Defense.
       On 9 Sep 1949, the Hallmark Playhouse broadcast a radio version of the story, starring Mickey Rooney and directed by Clarence Brown. On 30 Mar 1959, the CBS television network broadcast an adaptation of Saroyan's story, directed by Robert Mulligan and starring Michael J. Pollack. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
Mar 43
p. 95.
Box Office
6 Mar 1943.
---
Daily Variety
31-Aug-42
---
Daily Variety
26 Feb 43
p. 3, 6
Film Daily
1 Mar 43
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Feb 42
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Mar 42
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
4 May 42
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
7 May 42
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Jul 42
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Aug 42
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Aug 42
p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Aug 42
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Aug 42
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Sep 42
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Sep 42
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Sep 42
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Sep 42
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Sep 42
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Sep 42
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Oct 42
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Oct 42
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Oct 42
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Oct 42
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Oct 42
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Oct 42
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Oct 42
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Oct 42
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Nov 42
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Nov 42
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Dec 42
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Feb 43
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Feb 43
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Mar 43
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Apr 43
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Feb 44
p. 7.
Life
15 Mar 42
pp. 69-70.
Motion Picture Herald
27 Feb 43
p. 34.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
6 Mar 43
p. 1198.
New York Times
3 Mar 43
p. 19.
New York Times
7 Mar 43
p. 3 (sec 2).
Variety
3 Mar 43
p. 14.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Adeline deWalt Reynolds
Sid D'Albrook
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
From the story by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Assoc
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Assoc
COSTUMES
Cost supv
MUSIC
Mus score
SOUND
Rec dir
DANCE
Dance dir
MAKEUP
Makeup created by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Human Comedy by William Saroyan (New York, 1943).
SONGS
"All the World Will Be Jealous of Me," words and music by Ernest R. Ball and Al Dubin
"Leaning on the Everlasting Arms," words by E. A. Hoffman, music by A. J. Showalter.
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
William Saroyan's The Human Comedy
Premiere Information:
World premiere in New York: 2 March 1943
Production Date:
2 September--mid November 1942
Copyright Claimant:
Loew's Inc.
Copyright Date:
10 March 1943
Copyright Number:
LP11934
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Sound System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
118-120
Length(in feet):
10,511
Length(in reels):
12
Country:
United States
PCA No:
8987
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

In the small town of Ithaca, California, teenager Homer Macauley takes a night job as a telegraph messenger in order to help his widowed mother Katie make ends meet during his older brother Marcus' military absence. The eager Homer is awestruck by his manly new manager, Tom Spangler, a former valley champion in the 220 low hurdles, the same track and field event in which Homer competes, and is undaunted when the elderly, eloquent wire chief, Willie Grogan, issues instructions on how to rouse him when he is drunk. After Homer delivers his first wartime death notice, however, he is burdened by the grim realities of his job and confides a sudden loneliness to his mother. The understanding Katie, who has come to terms with her own husband Matthew's untimely death, reassures him that his confusion is a natural part of growing up. Later, at school, Homer and his rival, the well-to-do Hubert Ackley III, get into trouble with Miss Hicks, their ancient history teacher, for trading insults in class. As punishment, Miss Hicks orders the teenagers to stay after school and miss their scheduled 220 low hurdle race. The boys's coach, Blenton, however, lies to Miss Hicks that the principal has ordered Hubert to compete and pulls him from detention. Angry at Blenton's deception, Miss Hicks allows Homer to go, and to everyone's surprise, Homer wins the race. Later, Homer is forced to sing Hubert's telegraphed birthday greeting to Helen Elliot, the object of Homer and Hubert's desire, at a party to which Homer has not been invited. Although humiliated, Homer accepts Hubert's subsequent apology, and both boys agree to make peace ... +


In the small town of Ithaca, California, teenager Homer Macauley takes a night job as a telegraph messenger in order to help his widowed mother Katie make ends meet during his older brother Marcus' military absence. The eager Homer is awestruck by his manly new manager, Tom Spangler, a former valley champion in the 220 low hurdles, the same track and field event in which Homer competes, and is undaunted when the elderly, eloquent wire chief, Willie Grogan, issues instructions on how to rouse him when he is drunk. After Homer delivers his first wartime death notice, however, he is burdened by the grim realities of his job and confides a sudden loneliness to his mother. The understanding Katie, who has come to terms with her own husband Matthew's untimely death, reassures him that his confusion is a natural part of growing up. Later, at school, Homer and his rival, the well-to-do Hubert Ackley III, get into trouble with Miss Hicks, their ancient history teacher, for trading insults in class. As punishment, Miss Hicks orders the teenagers to stay after school and miss their scheduled 220 low hurdle race. The boys's coach, Blenton, however, lies to Miss Hicks that the principal has ordered Hubert to compete and pulls him from detention. Angry at Blenton's deception, Miss Hicks allows Homer to go, and to everyone's surprise, Homer wins the race. Later, Homer is forced to sing Hubert's telegraphed birthday greeting to Helen Elliot, the object of Homer and Hubert's desire, at a party to which Homer has not been invited. Although humiliated, Homer accepts Hubert's subsequent apology, and both boys agree to make peace with each other. The down-to-earth Tom, meanwhile, reluctantly accepts an invitation from his wealthy girl friend, Diana Steed, to meet her parents for the first time. Just before he is to be introduced to her father, however, Tom bolts from the Steed house and confesses to Diana his fears that her parents will not approve of him. After Diana assures Tom that her parents are not snobs, the two pledge their love, and Tom greets Mr. Steed wearing one of the elder man's bow ties. At the same time, in town, Homer's older sister Bess and next-door neighbor Mary Arena, Marcus' fiancée, meet three soldiers on the way to the movie theater and shyly invite them along to the show. The soldiers are grateful for the women's company, and Bess and Mary, seeing Marcus in each of them, are happy to have brightened the lonely men's day. Far from home, at his Army training camp, Marcus, meanwhile, tells his buddy, Tobey George, about his idyllic life in Ithaca, and Tobey, an orphan, decides to move there after the war and "become" a Macauley. Just before Marcus is to be shipped out, Homer receives a heartfelt letter from him. Unnerved by Marcus' advice to prepare for his possible death, Homer declares to Willie that he will "spit at the world" if Marcus is killed. Months later, while attending a Sunday festival, the newly married Tom confesses to his bride, Diana, that he has enlisted in the Navy, and although she is pregnant, Diana bravely endorses his decision. In town, meanwhile, Homer notices Willie in the telegraph office while walking with Bess, Mary and his little brother Ulysses, and stops to say hello. Willie is passed out and, as a message starts to come in, Homer runs for some hot coffee. When Homer returns, he discovers that Willie has died, having succumbed to a heart attack after receiving a message about Marcus' death. Tom then comforts the grief-stricken Homer, and while Homer gathers his courage to tell his family the tragic news, the two play horseshoes in the park. At the same time, Tobey, who was wounded during battle, has arrived in Ithaca and is headed for the Macauley home. Outside his house, Homer meets Tobey, about whom Marcus had often written, and sadly accepts Marcus' class ring from him. Bolstered by Tobey's love, Homer yells to his family that "the soldier's come home" and walks through the front door with him, ready to face his family. Watching his now mature son, the spirit of Matthew comments to the spirit of Marcus that "the ending is only the beginning." +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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