There are probably 20 actresses who would have fitted the role of the old servant who spent a lifetime with the Smith family, watching the children grow up and then turn against her in her old age. But there is only one Marie Dressler, a trouper with a genius for characters of comic surface but profound pathos.
The whole Emma affair is synthetic, in its comedy as well as in its sentiment the purest of hoke, sometimes skillfully wrought, but often far from clever in its manipulation. Dressler’s acting alone gives it vitality. There are bits that drag sadly. Such a sequence is the old servant’s departure for Niagara Falls on a long deferred vacation.
There is a courtroom scene that is the height of strong arm bathos and some of the passages toward the end are absurd in their determination to pull tears. Nothing but Dressler’s astonishing ability to command conviction saves some of these sequences from going flat.
Jean Hersholt delivers a well-paced and nicely restrained performance as an absent minded inventor; Myrna Loy and Barbara Kent help to decorate the picture with grace; and Richard Cromwell gives just the right feeling of a loveable adolescent boy.
1931/32: Nomination: Best Actress (Marie Dressler)