Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Claudia's a Young Mother

Claudia and David (1946) picks up nearly four years after we left the Naughtons in Claudia.  Claudia (Dorothy McGuire) is very much involved in mothering her little son, Bobby (Anthony Sydes), with the assistance of Bertha (Elsa Janssen), who now serves both as nanny and housekeeper. While at a dinner party hosted by David's sister-in-law Julia (Gail Patrick), the Naughtons meet Elizabeth Van Doren (Mary Astor), a wealthy widow who wants to completely redesign the farm which she purchased some years before. David (Robert Young) is thrilled to be offered what he sees as a dream job, but Claudia becomes annoyed at the amount of time David is spending on the project, pulling him away from home for longer periods of time.

There was no difference in opinion on this one - the entire group enjoyed the film, and found the more mature Claudia very appealing.  Sure, we have an initial driving sequence where we discover that Claudia is a terrible driver, but other than that, you spend a lot of the movie rooting for Claudia (and conversely getting very aggravated at David for being a total jerk).  Dorothy McGuire gives us a Claudia who wants to be a good mom; we know that she learned from the best, and it is reflected in her attitude towards her child. Her irritation towards David is the result of his unjustified petulance. David is almost blase about his son's illness and is oblivious to Claudia's concerns when she suspects the little boy is ill. I found myself cheering when she told him off.
One scene in particular is very telling in demonstrating the growth of the character of Claudia. Confronted by Edith Dexter (Rose Hobart), the wife of neighbor Philip Dexter (John Sutton), who has been visiting Claudia and little Bobby (Philip had driven Claudia home the night before, when he realized her concern about her child's health), Claudia is able to ultimately disregard Edith's nastiness (Edith smacks Claudia across the face), and have a kind and moving heart-to-heart with the older woman. Claudia's gentleness of spirit shines through, and you can see her reflecting back the teachings of her mother.

It's always good to see Jerome Cowan (Brian O'Toole); and he is very good in the part of stage medium.  We did feel that Brian's telling Claudia that David is going to have an accident seemed a bit over-the-top for a man who is essentially a performer. It is perhaps that the screenwriter wanted Claudia to seem silly for believing him, but her naive belief in him isn't all that odd - he's summoned up memories of her late mother, and already convinced several of the other dinner-party attendees of his veracity. By the conclusion of the film, you do have to wonder if he really has ANY psychic powers.
This was Anthony Sydes first film; though his name was not immediately familiar, he had a respectable career as a child actor.   Most of us probably remember him as Thelma Ritter's son, Peter in Miracle on 34th Street (1947) or as Tony in Sitting Pretty (1948).  Born in 1941, he worked in films and television until he was 17 years old, after which, he joined the Army, serving two tours in Vietnam. His next career was as a professional auctioneer - he started an auction business and an auction college (to train new professionals in the field). His firm was still in business in 2015 when he died at age 74.  (For more information, see this obituary in The Hollywood Reporter).

For those of you who might wonder if the mustard bath that is used was actually a treatment of the time, it was. It was a long-time home remedy for fever.  By 1949, according to this Archives of Disease in Childhood article, it was considered by doctors, at any rate, as a way to keep parents busy until the doctor could arrive (back in the era of house calls!) -  much the way Philip sets Claudia doing tasks that will keep her occupied until the Doctor (Harry Davenport)'s arrival.

We also enjoyed John Sutton, who gave Philip a kindness that (for us) eliminated any thought of a pursuit of Claudia.  Sutton had a fascinating life - before becoming an actor, he worked as a tea plantation manager, a hunter, and a rancher; living in what is now Pakistan (where he was born), China, Malaya, and the Philippines. With over 103 film and television credits, he had an impressive career (usually as a villain or second lead) in such films as Jane Eyre (1944), Captain from Castile (1947), and The Three Musketeers (1948). He died of a heart attack in Cannes in 1963, age 54.
The New York Times review was fairly positive, though we think they were harder on Claudia then she deserves (and much kinder to David than HE deserved). There was a third Claudia film planned (AFI Catalog), but as Ms. McGuire and Mr. Young were never free at the same time, the picture never happened. Regardless, this is a nice conclusion to the series, and worth a visit.

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