Blossoms in the Dust, directed by Mervyn LeRoy, was the only film among the nominees of 1941 that was in Technicolor, so I had some expectations going into my viewing of it. To the film’s credit, those expectations were largely ignored as the film went on, but more because the film itself had a few problems that became looming and hard to ignore the longer the film went on. Many other reviews of this one that I’ve read have made lots of mentions of how affecting this story is, mostly because it’s a true story of a real-life woman. That it is a true story, however, shouldn’t earn the film any undue favors, especially because the actual film doesn’t do nearly enough justice to the real-life story it presents, thanks to the numerous faults in the storytelling.
Greer Garson stars as Edna Gladney, who starts off the film as a well-to-do fiancee dreaming of a double wedding with her adopted sister Charlotte. Of course, things don’t turn out as planned; for one, she is almost irresponsibly swept off her feet by wheat farmer Sam Gladney, breaking off her engagement and marrying him instead, and for another, her sister’s engagement is called off when her future in-laws discover she was adopted and thus an illegitimate child, and she kills herself out of shame. Both of these events, coupled with an eventual accident that takes the life of her own young son, have a profound effect on Edna, and lead her to take in other foundlings and illegitimate children, forming her own adoption center to find them good homes, which eventually evolves into a legislative battle she wages to have illegitimate children not forever marked as such by their birth certificates. I can say a handful of good things about Blossoms in the Dust; the Technicolor cinematography was sumptuous, and Greer Garson does a good job being sentimental and an easy character to root for. Unfortunately, these are overshadowed by the more than numerous things I could say about the film that were not so good. For instance, the film had a very odd structure about it, which seemed exacerbated by the short running time; the story almost lurched along, meandering for a short while until punctuated by bursts of plot development, which are then largely ignored as the film moves along to the next bit of meandering. I caught on to this structuring of the story a little too early into the film, and it became a nagging persistence as the film went on, as more tragic happenings and downturns in the plot kept happening and then were just as swiftly swept along and not allowed to have the impact they needed to make them worthwhile. Add to it the decisions of the plot developments themselves, which seemed to have bad thing after bad thing happen to Edna Gladney solely to make her more sympathetic as a character and to get us to weep and say ‘you pull through this, girl!’, and I was almost to the level of being insulted by the manipulation the film takes part in. As I said, Greer Garson was good, but the acting from everyone else, from Walter Pidgeon as her husband to the children and black houseworkers, was caricatured at best, and not even the saving grace of the cinematography could stop me from wondering what the hell Mervyn LeRoy and the screenwriters were doing with this picture.
Films like this one make me more than a little disconcerted, for several reasons. The main one I alluded to in the opener, that the film has so many problems with it that it doesn’t do nearly enough justice to the true story as it and many reviewers think it does. Just because the true story of the film is a rosy one and one worthy of sentiment and praise does not automatically mean the film should receive similar sentiment and accolades, because the truth of it is that this isn’t a very well put together film at all. It’s maudlin, and tugs at the heartstrings to an unnecessary and manufactured degree, and what’s most upsetting to me is that the actual true story behind the film would’ve been more than adequate at doing that on its own, without the ‘helping hand’ of Hollywood going overboard with it and thus screwing it all up. Even with it being the sole color film among the nominees, I can’t say that this really deserved its spot in the Best Picture roster, and that a film a mere hour-and-a-half long could have so many elementary issues with it made me more than a little frustrated.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10