Major Augustus Parkington: Life was too simple without you.
Despite some good MGM production values, I had a hard time caring about what happened to the characters in this look at the long life of a boarding house keeper’s daughter who made good.
Susie Parkington (Greer Garson) is presiding over the Christmas gathering of her selfish and querulous clan. Son-in-law Amory Stilham (Edward Arnold) surprises her with a commissioned account of the history of the Parkington family. She begins to read and we segue into flashback punctuated by present day developments.
Susie is working as a maid in her mother’s boarding house in a frontier mining town when mine owner Major Augustus Parkington comes looking for a room for a few days. He is a flamboyant fellow and the workers staying at the boarding house resent him for cutting corners on mine safety. The Major immediately starts flirting with the pretty Susie. Then Susie’s mother is killed while delivering lunches to the men during a mine collapse, leaving her an orphan. The Major, already pretty smitten, decides the decent thing to do is to take her under his wing and this means marrying her.
On the couple’s arrival in New York, the Major must break the news to his French mistress, the Baroness Aspasia Conti (Agnes Moorehead. All things considered, Aspasia takes this development in stride and agrees to groom the naive Susie into a shining socialite. She even furnishes the house the Major has built as a surprise to his wife. On the day the couple move in, Susie announces she is pregnant.
The Major decides to throw a lavish ball in honor of the occasion. But the “400” of New York society fail to attend the scrappy rough-hewn young millionaire’s party. During the ruckus the Major rouses at the affair, Susie miscarries. He blames society and systematically begins to financially ruin every invitee who failed to show up. When Susie finally gets wind of this, she leaves him. Their reconciliation marks the turning point in the marriage as the Major recognizes Susie as a real partner and equal.
The marriage has its ups and downs. When they lose a son to a polo accident, Susie sinks into a deep depression and the Major heads off to England. But rumors of his affair with a British aristocratic cause Susie to spring into action.
Interspersed within the life story are the present day developments in Susie’s granddaughter’s engagement to a mining engineer and a looming financial scandal. With Cecil Kellaway as the Prince of Wales, Gladys Cooper as the elderly Susie’s horrible daughter, and Dan Duryea as her grandson.
By far the best thing about this film was Agnes Moorehead’s performance. If her face were not so recognizable, she would have perfectly disappeared into the character of a French sophisticate complete with a tolerable accent. Garson is not terribly convincing as an old lady. Otherwise, this was an OK family saga but nothing terribly special.
Greer Garson was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar and Agnes Moorhead received a nod as Best Supporting Actress.