Harold Bucquet, who handled the Dr. Kildare series at MGM, directed this maudlin 1939 fantasy in which a curmudgeonly grandfather (Lionel Barrymore, of course) stalls Death (in the guise of dapper Englishman Cedric Hardwicke) to prevent the forced adoption of his orphaned grandson (Bobs Watson). The film’s studio back-lot version of small-town America and its glorious, sunlit heaven are painfully hokey, and while Bucquet nicely captures the camaraderie between Barrymore and Watson, the two of them provide enough ham for an Easter dinner. Adapted from a play by Lawrence Edward Watkin; with Beulah Bondi and Una Merkel.
Its Paris opening in 1939 was a disaster: the film was withdrawn, recut, and eventually banned by the occupying forces for its “demoralizing” effects. It was not shown again in its complete form until 1965, when it became clear that here, perhaps, was the greatest film ever made. “The rules of the game,” said Jean Renoir, “are those which must be observed in society if one wishes to avoid being crushed.” His protagonist, a pilot (Roland Toutain), breaks the rules: he believes that his love for a wealthy married woman (Nora Gregor) is strong enough to lift him above society, above morality. At a weekend hunting party, he learns it is not—that nothing is. With Marcel Dalio, Mila Parely, Gaston Modot, and Renoir himself. In French with subtitles. 110 min.