Three and a half hours after the Academy Awards ceremony had ended, I was catching Smilin’ Through on TCM. I’m not much of a night owl, by ten my eyes are usually drooping. Being up in the middle of the night to watch a predictable 1930’s melodrama did not make me a happy camper, but I’m committed to this damn blog. And I can’t justify paying for a DVR.
Anyway, Smilin’ Through is the story of Sir John Carteret (Leslie Howard), a man who has lived a solitary life since his beloved Mooney tragically died. He likes to talk to her spirit in the garden. A nice ghostly visual effect is used. After thirty years of watching this, his friend Owen (O.P. Heggie) has finally found a way to give John something more to live for. His five year old niece, Kathleen, has just become an orphan, losing both her parents at sea. Though John is against it at first, he grows to love his newly adopted daughter
Kathleen grows up (now played by Norma Shearer) and looks just like Moonyeen, and as girls grow they will find suitors. Things are going well with Willy (Ralph Forbes) until one stormy night, they seek shelter in an abandoned house and meet Kenneth Wayne (Fredric March). Being a charismatic young man, Kenneth and Kathleen have an instant chemistry and later go on a makeshift date. But when Kathleen comes home to tell John about Kenneth, the name brings heartbreak and he tells Kathleen the tragic story of Moonyeen’s death.
The flashback to John’s romance with Moonyeen is done very well. The transitions are visually compelling. Basically, the tragedy is told in the most melodramatic way that Moonyeen was being pursued by Kenneth’s father, Jeremy Wayne, and in his heartbroken rage, killed Moonyeen on her wedding day. Right there in the church with John holding her. It’s one of those wonderful, old-timey, drawn out death scenes with violins playing, topped off with a gang of weeping bridesmaids.
No matter how cheesy the story was told, Kathleen is moved to tears and understands John’s ill feelings toward the Wayne family. But we know how young love is, though she tries at first, she can’t stay away from Kenneth. That is, until he’s called off to war.
At three in the morning, I was making making absurd comments and laughing quietly to myself, trying not to wake my husband in the next room. Throughout the course of this blog, I’ve seen enough forbidden love and romantic tragedies to sink a second Titanic. Smilin’ Through (named after a song Moonyeen sings in the flashback for no real reason) is too melodramatic to be taken very seriously today, but the few visual effects and transitions are very nice work for the time period. Even I can appreciate that in the middle of the night.
“I know someone who would be glad of what you have done tonight.”