Saturday, May 21, 2016

Review - Our Neighbors, The Carters (1939)

Our Neighbors, The Carters

Starring: Fay Banter, Frank Craven, Edmund Lowe, and Genevieve Tobin.
Director: Ralph Murphy.
Studio: Paramount Pictures.
Release Date: November 29, 1939.

"Wouldn't it be wonderful, daddy, if minutes were like years?"
This extremely obscure Paramount flick made a big mistake with that line right there, since it certainly echoes the film's own pace. Seeking to cash in on the popularity of Metro's Andy Hardy series and the other homegrown nostalgic family flicks that were raking up box office gold, Our Neighbors, The Carters is as twee as you can imagine. Cute kids? Check. Disability? Yeah. Proud family that sticks together? Yep. And everyone learning a valuable lesson about love and money and what it means to be a family?

Paramount, usually known for their extravagant films, usually with a European bent, really went in the other direction for this go around. Set in a provincial American town, the Carters-- with matriarch Fay Banter and grumpy but lovable father Frank Craven-- make due with what they have, which is tough with five kids. One also is disabled and needs braces, while the others have a variety of little dramas.

The big one that hit their family is when dad's drug store is driven out of business by a chain and then all of their money is lost trying to fight back. Dire financial times strike, and it may mean that they have to give up one of their children to a pair of rich friends in order to make ends meet. Yes, the Carters are too proud to take money-- but not too proud to sell one of their kids. This kind of movie didn't age very well-- it's pat on one hand, and contrived on the other. It's too sincere, punching every note at maximum resiliency.

The best part of the movie are pre-Code stalwarts Lowe and Tobin. Lowe has a good smile and charm, which makes his rich man character who apparently drinks every night (!) come off better than he probably should.

Tobin's penultimate role sees her full of mirth and light. She plays a distant friend of the Carters who realizes that she wants a kid as well, eventually leading to the whole entanglement with the Carter kids. Like Lowe, she's too bright and cheery for us to really believe them to be as dumb as the tripe they're saying. Tobin's best moment comes when her friend, Banter, has saved up for a specialist, though she doesn't have nearly enough money but doesn't know it. Tobin exchanges a wink with the doctor, letting the audience know that she made sure that Banter thinks she's the one taking care of everything while also tipping us off to her cleverness.

The movie was enough of a financial success that a sequel was considered, but it doesn't seem to have ever come to fruition. Paramount put this on a double bill with Too Many Husbands, a screwball comedy with Jean Arthur, Fred MacMurray, and Melvyn Douglas about a woman who really gets a kick out of the idea of having two husbands. So, ya know, perfect double feature material.

Our Neighbors, The Carters (notably, the title is another ingratiating tidbit-- their "the audience's" neighbors, no one in the films in particular) is a cheesy little production, one that doesn't convince and drags. It does speak to the old adage though-- families will always have happy endings as long as their friends are rich as all get out.


Frank S. Nugent in the New York Times surprisingly fawns over it, noting, "if the Carters can pull through, brother, so can you."

The Showman's Trade Review also loves it, calling it "down-to-earth" and praising the child actors.

The National Board of Review calls the characters "well delineated."

Harrison's Reports suggests that young folks should see it to understand the sacrifices their parents make. Yikes.


This is probably the most obscure movie I've covered on this site so far-- I had to watch it on a bootleg DVD at the UCLA Cinema Studies room (hence why there are no screenshots here). Maybe it will get released someday-- the transfer wasn't bad-- but I wouldn't hold your breath.

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