Monday, January 15, 2018

The Young in Heart (1938)

The Young in Heart (1938)

"And here came the Carletons, a merry little streamlined family exuding charm and a touch of larceny with every fortune-hunting smile..."

Producer David O. Selznick was in a bind. Gone With the Wind was costing his production company Selznick International Pictures a lot of money and they hadn't even started filming. Selznick knew that without any incoming cash flow there was no way he was going to be able to continue. He set out to make a few pictures in the interim that would generate some much needed box office returns. One of those movies was The Young in Heart (1938).

The Carletons are a family of con artists. There is Sahib (Roland Young) the monocle wearing, poker playing patriarch, his loving yet ditzy wife Marmy (Billie Burke) and their two kids the suave Richard (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) and the head strong George-Anne (Janet Gaynor). They travel around targeting wealthy socialites in hopes of conning them out of their money. The Carletons are working their prey at a resort in the Riviera. Richard has his eye on a plain jane socialite with a bankable dowry. George-Anne has a handsome yet not-so-rich Scotsman, Duncan (Richard Carlson) at her beck and call.




"You're so young. When you're old night comes too soon."

When the resort proprietors catch on, the Carletons are presented with a one-way train ticket back to London. On their journey, they meet a sweet older woman with a peculiar name, Miss Fortune (Minnie Dupree). She recently inherited a mansion and much wealth from an old beau. George-Anne sees an opportunity to get into the lady's good graces. She convinces her family to be kind to the lady in hopes they might be written into her will. But they all get a lot more then they bargained for. When George-Anne suggests they start acting like normal, hard-working folks instead of socializing gadabouts, they're reluctant at first. But then they find that they kind of like this new lifestyle. Sahib becomes a successful salesman at a car dealership. Richard gets a job at an engineering plant and falls for the secretary Leslie Saunders (Paulette Goddard). And they begin to care for Miss Fortune in a way that hadn't expected. George-Anne doesn't think any of them are capable of change and keeps beau Duncan at bay because she doesn't think she's good enough. Will the Carletons be able to con their way into Miss Fortune's will? Or will their true nature be revealed?

Richard (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) and Leslie (Paulette Goddard) buy Miss Fortune a puppy.

Based on the novel The Gay Banditti by I.A.R. Wylie serialized in The Saturday Evening Post, The Young in Heart was the perfect picture for Selznick to produce pre-Gone With the Wind. According to to author Steve Wilson in his book The Making of Gone With the Wind, some of the cast members of The Young in Heart were considered for GWTW including Billie Burke, Paulette Goddard who had tried for the part of Scarlett O'Hara and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. who turned down Ashley because he wanted to be Rhett.

The film was directed by Richard Wallace with some directorial work also completed by Lewis Milestone, Gilbert Pratt and Richard Thorpe. If the end of the film seems to have a different tone from the rest of the picture, it's because it was a new ending tacked on after the production had wrapped up. Test audiences reacted very negatively to the original ending. As a result, the plot was changed and the actors were called back to reshoot the final scenes.

The Flying Wombat, The Young in Heart (1938)
The Flying Wombat

William Cameron Menzies did the production design and went on to work with Selznick on Gone With the Wind. Vintage car enthusiasts will be mesmerized by the scenes at the Flying Wombat car dealership and by the car itself. These scenes are a final hurrah for the Art Deco era with its minimalist style and clean lines. The Flying Wombat was a Phantom Corsair that cost $12,000 to make. According to the AFI, it "was an experimental vehicle built by Rust Heinz of Pasadena, CA, with a body design by Maurice Schwatz." It was going to be produced in a limited run for the general public but that plan was canceled when Heinz suddenly died,


The cast of The Young in Heart is one of the best. Roland Young and Billie Burke are simply charming. I was blown away by Minnie Dupree who plays the kind hearted Miss Fortune. When I did some research on her, I was sad to see that she had only made two movies. Dupree was a celebrated stage actress and was brought on to this production when another actress dropped out at the last minute. Dupree gives the film much heart and I suspect she's the main reason why the ending was changed.

This film was not only Dupree's screen debut but also Richard Carlson's. Selznick offered the young actor, who proved to be quite the self-starter, a contract and Janet Gaynor encouraged Carlson to appear in the film. Besides delivering the worst Scottish accent ever, Carlson does a decent job in his debut. Paulette Goddard was also getting her start in film and this performance comes after Modern Times (1936). Gaynor at 32 and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. at 29 were a bit too old for their parts. But they pull it off giving the film the youthfulness that was needed for the story. For Gaynor, this movie would be the last in a celebrated career before she retired (she made one more film appearance a couple decades later). Just the year before she had a stand out performance in the much celebrated A Star is Born (1937) and won an Academy Award. Gaynor married costume designer Gilbert Adrian and retired from the industry.

Selznick's film did well at the box office and went on to be nominated for three Academy Awards: Leon Shamroy for Best Cinematography and Best Music (Scoring and Original Score) for Franz Waxman.

I was utterly enchanted by The Young in Heart. It's just the sort of feel good movie that isn't sickly sweet with it's message. Rather it gently tugs at your heart strings. While the ending does feel rather abrupt and disjointed, I don't think my emotional state could have handled the alternative scenario. I loved watching the evolution of the Carleton family. They're an endearing foursome and I enjoyed watching them transform from no-good con artists to upstanding citizens.  If the film has one message it's that it doesn't matter what stage in life you are in, change is always possible.

The Young in Heart (1938) is a hidden gem, an obscure little film from a glorious era of filmmaking. It deserves more recognition than it currently receives. I dare you to watch it and not be charmed by it. Impossible.




Kino Lorber has released The Young in Heart (1938) on DVD and Blu-Ray. It doesn't have any extras yet it looks absolutely glorious on Blu-Ray.

Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a Blu-Ray copy of The Young in Heart (1938) to review.


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