Of Human Hearts (1938)

Of Human HeartsOf Human Hearts Poster
Directed by Clarence Brown
Written by Bradbury Foote from the story “Benefits Forgot” by Honore Morrow

First viewing/Warner Archives DVD


Rev. Ethan Wilkins: [after Jason has rejected and mocked the old black coat that sister Clarke has donated him] Pride… Pride and selfishness. They’re out of place in our family, Jason. Unless you conquer them they’re going to make you unhappy, and those who love you unhappy, too. All you seem to think about is that “doctor book.”

This picture has everything going for it but the story was a bit too slight to hook me.

Preacher Ethan Wilkins (Walter Huston) receives the call to minister to a tiny community on the American frontier in Ohio.  When he arrives with his wife Mary (Beulah Bondi) and 12-year-old son Jason, the townspeople renege on the promised salary of $400 per year and will provide most of the remainder in old clothes and food.  Ethan and Mary are resigned to this but Jason chafes under this system of charity and hand-me-downs all his life.  Ethan is quick to whip Jason for ingratitude or talking back.  Mary secretly pets the boy.

Jason makes friends with the vaguely alcoholic town doctor (Charles Coburn).  A medical book he borrows gives him his life’s calling.  When he is grown, Jason (James Stewart) leaves for Baltimore to go to medical school.  Although, he also works at the school he must constantly write home for money.  His mother continuously sells the few valuable possessions the family accumulated before moving to Ohio to finance her son’s education.

When Jason, goes off to serve in the Civil War, he eventually stops writing home causing his mother to think he may have been killed.  In her anxiety, she writes to the President. With an unrecognizable John Carradine as Lincoln, Guy Kibbee as the greedy local grocer, and Gene Lockhart as Jason’s schoolmate and sidekick.

of human hearts 1

The acting and production of this film are top-notch.  The only thing I can fault is the lack of action in the story.  It is basically one example after another of Jason’s ingratitude.  It is a common every-day kind of ingratitude that kind of made the movie drag for me.  This film remains an example of some very fine Golden Age acting and is probably worth seeing for that alone.

Beulah Bondi was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in Of Human Hearts.

Clip – Stewart and Carradine



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