|Young Ethel Barrymore|
Barrymore felt comfortable with Odets as director, because of his stage credentials and his deference to her. Despite its studio production, the film was set in 1930s London, in the working class East End. As widow "Ma" Mott, Barrymore owns a junk shop and barely gets by, no thanks to her vagabond and often AWOL son, Ernie Mott, played by Grant. Ernie can't seem to stay long enough to take charge of the shop, and there is an uncomfortable truce between mother and son. Having recently returned from a jaunt to who knows where, this time Ernie is facing for the first time some very unpleasant consequences of leaving again -- Ma is now dying of cancer, and he falls in love with beautiful Ada, as a vulnerable young woman trying to make up for some bad decisions but not quite succeeding. Things get even more complicated when both Ma and Ernie separately get mixed up with the criminal element. We wonder if anyone in the film will have a happy ending.
|Barrymore as 'Ma Mott' has not had an easy life.|
|Grant in an early scene|
|Luminous June Duprez in NONE BUT THE LONELY HEART|
|Barry Fitzgerald and Grant have a pint together|
|With the Salvation Army hat|
|A heart-rending scene with Grant|
The film received good reviews, and the normally snarky Bosley Crowther of the New York Times was effusive with his praise: "The poignant and wistful story of the Cockney wanderer, Ernie Mott, and his sad and wonderful mother and their ever-hungry search for some sort of spiritual fulfillment has been rendered in this film with all of the beauty and feeling that one could hopefully expect.".(NY Times, 11/18/1944). The film eventually lost money -- it was apparently too much of a downer for mass audiences -- but won Barrymore her Oscar, which stunned her. When asked if she thought it was fair for her to have won when others had gone to Hollywood earlier and toiled longer there, she paused, and then replied, "Perhaps they shouldn't have gone." Her success prompted her to move to Hollywood and devote many more years to the medium--and we are the better for it.
|Barrymore with her Oscar and Broderick Crawford (1945)|
James Kotsilibas-Davis, The Barrymores: The Royal Family in Hollywood, 1981, Crown Publishers.
Richard Schickel, Cary Grant--A Celebration, 1999, Applause Books.