A young boy is left to carry out a wish and pull off a Christmas miracle in this 1957 movie.
Time for another Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Movie Challenge, the series in which two blogger friends (me and Mike’s Take on the Movies) pick films for the other to watch & review once a month.
I inadvertently (totally, I swear) gave Mike a bunch of tearjerker movies this year as part of our challenge and it became a bit of a joke, so he gave me this film, which fit our Christmas theme for this month, and meant it would be my turn to prepare a box of kleenex. In All Mine to Give, Cameron Mitchell and Glynis Johns play a married Scottish couple who come to America to make a new life. They were invited by a relative who, they learn as soon as they arrive, recently died in a fire. They decide to stay anyway and are warmly welcomed by the townsfolk, with the exception of one busybody (Reta Shaw). Their new home is raised quickly with all the locals pitching in, and soon they have a son. Mitchell finds work under the employ of the obnoxious Alan Hale Jr. who keeps calling him “Norsky.” As time passes, the family grows to include three boys and three girls, and Mitchell starts his own boat business.
I don’t normally like to spoil plots but there’s really no way of talking about this movie without going into the details, so you’ve been warned. First the middle son almost dies of diptheria and as he recovers, Cam Mitchell dies of the disease. The oldest boy (Rex Thompson), barely into his teens, then becomes the man of the family, and proves to be a quick learner and an extraordinarily strong little man. A few years pass during which Glynis Johns works hard, tries to get the kids educated, and learns to read herself. Then one Christmas Eve she dies of fever, and her last wish is that Thompson places all the children with different families so they can continue to grow up in comfort and loving homes instead of being sent to some state facility. The Christmas miracle is that he manages to make this happen.
You’d think from this summary that the movie is unrelentingly sad, but it has many lighter moments to balance things out. You can tell right from the outset, from the tone and from the emotional music by Max Steiner that it’s going to pull hard on every heartstring, but I think it it stops short of being manipulative. For example we’re spared both Mitchell’s and Johns’ death scenes and instead are given touching final moments and poignant discussions, and then a funeral in the next scene. I would say there is a pacing issue as the tragedies are stacked a bit heavily onto the second half of the film, without enough happy breaks. However as a whole you still get a fair and full picture of reality for most large families in that time, when lives were tough with little defense against illness and good chances of early death.
I was surprised to discover that this was young Rex Thompson’ last movie, after a short career that included The King and I and The Eddy Duchin Story. He does such good work here, and has a gravity and maturity reminiscent of Roddy McDowall, as he tries to be strong for everyone and grows up so fast, learning valuable wisdom from a few serious conversations with his mom and dad. After every new baby, Cameron Mitchell carves each name into the tree just outside the front door. One powerful moment is when Thompson, after being so steely and strong in front of everyone, is almost finished getting all the other kids adopted and has a moment alone by the tree. He stops to look at the carved names all lined up together, which they’ll never be again in reality, and he collapses in sadness. He picks himself up and goes on, and the movie ends after he places his one remaining sister with her new family and hikes off into a blizzard. I wonder what happens to him, but he seems too strong a character not to make it and go on with his life, even if, as we’re led to believe, he does go on alone, never expecting to return to visit his siblings. A little more of a definite hopeful sign would have made for a nicer ending after all the tragedy.
The other characters in town are well done, introduced in ways that make it obvious they’ll play roles later but with enough left open that you can’t guess exactly how they’ll figure. You get memorable faces like Royal Dano as one of the first people the couple meets when they arrive, and later grey haired and melting at Thompson’s request for help. You get Alan Hale Jr. being such a jerk yet ending up appreciative to Mitchell for knocking his aching tooth out in a fight and saving him a trip to the dentist. Patty McCormack (The Bad Seed) plays the oldest of Mitchell and Johns’ daughters, while the middle daughter is grumpy and scowling, almost comic relief. The youngest boy Stephen Wootton can’t shake a pair of infatuated, teasing sisters whenever they go to town, and there’s a funny moment in the middle of the heartbreak where Thompson and Wootton start brawling because the freckle-faced Wootton won’t admit that he really is as cute as those girls say. Ernest Truex plays the town’s doctor, a man who has no poker face when it comes to a terrible prognosis. Hope Emerson, who could be so scary in movies (see: Cry of the City) is here stern and solid comfort as the midwife who attends to every birth, ringing a bell to announce the birth of a boy and blowing a whistle for a girl.
This was director Allen Reisner’s first feature film of only a few he made; he also did St. Louis Blues and mainly worked on tons of TV shows ranging from The Untouchables, Ben Casey, to Kojak and Murder, She Wrote. This story was originally made in 1955 as a TV movie starring Brandon De Wilde.
All Mine to Give is a moving and memorable story. Good pick and mission accomplished, many hankies were thoroughly moistened. Now go see the Christmas themed movie I chose for Mike; it’s one of my all-time favourites.