Smilin' Through

1932, Movie, NR, 96 mins

Review

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Lovely, simply lovely. SMILIN' THROUGH was first a stage play, then a 1922 silent film starring Norma Talmadge. The story begins in England in 1868, on the day of Norma Shearer's wedding to Leslie Howard. Tragedy strikes during the ceremony, when Shearer's jealous suitor, Fredric March, shows up drunk and crazed. He pulls a pistol and fires at his rival, but the bullet hits Shearer. As she lies dying in Howard's arms, she promises him that she will always be near and that someday they will be reunited. March manages to escape and disappears. Howard spends the rest of his days as a lonely recluse grieving over his loss. Years pass, and Howard's loneliness is interrupted by the arrival of his young niece, who comes to live with the old man after her parents are drowned. One day the niece (played as an adult by Shearer) and a friend are caught in a rainstorm and seek shelter in an empty old house--the same house March had fled long ago. While exploring the place, Shearer meets March's son (also played by March), and there is an instant romantic attraction between the two. Shearer excitedly tells Howard of her discovery, but the old man angrily forbids her to see the son of the man who robbed him of his true love. Soon after, March goes to fight in WWI, and the ghost of the dead woman keeps returning to Howard to beg him to let the young lovers be united.

SMILIN' THROUGH is an example of romantic melodrama at its best. A hit at the box office, the film boasts a superb production and a strong cast who handle their roles with aplomb. La Norma was perhaps never better (and she never looked lovelier), and March, Howard, O.P. Heggie, and Ralph Forbes lend sterling support. One of those rare films whose gorgeous soft-focus look and dreamy, unashamed, sentimental romantic conviction suggests the best of Frank Borzage, SMILIN' THROUGH was remade by Borzage with less success in 1941, with Jeanette MacDonald, Gene Raymond and Brian Aherne. leave a comment

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