Henrietta Crosman plays a rural woman who, rather than see her only son leave home and marry his local sweetheart, signs him up for World War I, where he perishes. After the war, she travels with a group of other mothers to visit her son’s grave.
This under seen early John Ford effort surprised me. Crosman brings a charismatic pathos to a role that could have devolved into caricature. Ford delivers some memorable visuals including a terrific cut from the fatal World War I battle to a raging storm pounding Crosman’s meager cottage, and a later quiet shot of Crosman reassembling a torn photo of her son after learning of his passing.
The story echo’s Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, minus the supernatural. The trip to France shows Crosman the error of her ways and provides a chance at redemption when she chances upon another young man with a possessive mother. This plot turn didn’t wash with me, as the young man came from money and his wealthy mother wouldn’t see past Crosman’s poor rural class.
To distract, we get a drawn out argument over cab fare where Ford tracks around the animated crowd on an extensive set. But this scene proves redundant, as does a later flashback meant to hammer home the similarities between this new couple and Crosman’s son.
The Criterion print displayed some focus issues during forced perspective shots. These amplified the artifice of the early matte effects. I suspect these flaws are present in the source rather than an encoding byproduct.
But Crosman’s performance overcomes these shortcomings. She’s so good, the kid playing her mopey grandson feels even more wooden by comparison. He sinks every scene he’s in, but these prove few and well-spaced. And some oddities prove beyond Crosman’s reach. Like horse-drawn sleighs in snow-covered Arkansas. And the creepy on-the-mouth kiss the young man’s mother gives his sweetheart after her Scroogelike change of heart. That was just weird.