Frontier life in a village on the banks of the Ohio river in the days preceding the Civil War is the background against which Clarence Brown tells the story of a mother’s sacrifice for the career of an ungrateful son.
Brown is said to have cherished the idea of producing this story for some time. Screenplay is based on Honore Morrow’s story Benefits Forgot, published nearly a score of years earlier.
A meaner, more selfish, bigoted and ornery group never existed than these villagers, into whose midst comes a preacher of the Gospel with his wife and 12-year-old son. They had promised him $400 a year to be custodian of their souls, then cut the allowance to $250 and some cast-off clothing for his dependents.
The preacher accepts these terms with humility. The son, however, rebels against the petty tyranny and selfishness of the neighbors.
Latter part of the film relates the boy’s brilliant success as a surgeon in the Union army, and his neglect for his mother, now widowed.
Walter Huston is the zealous circuit riding preacher, a man of uncompromising principle. Beulah Bondi is the wife and mother and she shades the transitions of age with convincing acting. Gene Reynolds first appears as the son, a role played by James Stewart in the later scenes.
Chief cause for disappointment with the film is its slow pace, and the defeatist mood of the story.
1938: Nomination: Best Supp. Actress (Beulah Bondi)