I sat down to The Young in Heart tonight after recording it Tuesday morning and found it to live up to expectations. Before going on, here's what I wrote on Tuesday:
The Young in Heart (1938) is a comedy featuring the Carletons, a family of con artists, led by Janet Gaynor and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., who help save the life of the appropriately named Miss Fortune (Minnie Dupree) when their train derails. Elderly Miss Fortune shows her kindness by taking the family in, and the Carletons do their best to try and secure the place of top beneficiaries in Miss Fortune's will. Billie Burke and Roland Young also feature in the cast of Carleton family members.
Well, after actually having watched the film now, I'd say that was a pretty good write-up I cobbled together. My first surprise was that Janet Gaynor and Doug Fairbanks, Jr. were playing brother and sister, I'm pretty glad I hadn't intimated they were husband and wife...because that's what I did think when I wrote that summary! As George-Ann and Richard Carleton, Gaynor and Fairbanks come about as close to equal billing as I've ever seen any non-romantic pair do. I think if you were going to say one of them had the lead then I'd lean towards Janet Gaynor, who was really the more consistent moral heartbeat throughout the picture.
One of the things I enjoyed most about the scheming Carletons, Gaynor and Fairbanks, as well as Marmy played by Billie Burke and the Sahib played by Roland Young, is that these low brow con artists are all played by actors we generally like, so there seemed to be something a bit forbidden in each of their conniving. Even Billie Burke, who, yes, is typically air headed and self-absorbed, makes you a little bit uncomfortable when congratulating her daughter on making strides towards being included in Miss Fortune's will.
Ah, Miss Fortune, played by Minnie Dupree, a stage actress I'd been hitherto unfamiliar with, she may have been the weakest character in our story. She was just so damn sweet, so nice, that part of me had hoped the movie would end with her pulling something sinister on our friends, the Carletons.
The men of the family, Roland Young and Doug Fairbanks both overcome their aversion to work and come to learn to rewards of self-suffiency. Young's character is especially charming, as the Sahib, it's pretty apparent all of the conning began with him, but he eventually finds he's quite good at selling some sporty cars called Flying Wombats too! Fairbanks' interest in a career is sparked by his meeting of the beautiful Paulette Goddard, whose company allows him to confess his less than honorable goals aloud and help point him towards the moral right.
Poor Doug and Janet Gaynor must overcome being born and raised hustlers and the script does a good job of having them each come to terms to right and wrong as the film progresses. Gaynor is especially conflicted right from the beginning, as she's fallen in love with a poor Scotsman, Duncan McCrae played by Richard Carlson, whom she's forced to leave high and dry at the start of the picture when the Carleton family's background is discovered. In this opening scene, well before Paulette Goddard enters, Fairbanks is wooing an heiress worth three million dollars, which by the Carleton's moral code made it okay for Gaynor to fall for a poor man--they would share in Fairbanks' prosperity. With Fairbanks' lady out of the picture, Gaynor repeatedly rejects Duncan Macrae despite longing for him throughout the movie.
The con that the Carleton's are pulling on Miss Fortune has the potential to come off as very cruel, and in fact some of the knowing glances the family exchanges early on are downright terrifying to think about, but they pull it off here, remaining likeable by not taking the plotting a step over the line. While their goal is to get in the elderly Miss Fortune's will, the script doesn't dwell on the old lady's dying too much, so our cast do not turn into outright ghouls (though Billie Burke comes closest). The Carleton familys interaction with Miss Fortune's servants are another hint that they are good people, as they treat the servants as equals.
There are several funny moments throughout the movie, especially involving Roland Young, and the story manages to stay believable as you watch, despite it being somewhat unbelievable to contemplate away from the screen. The Young in Heart serves up two big messages: 1) Work can be rewarding, and more blantantly, 2) Bad people can change for the good.
In terms of movie cards and collectibles, what is a strong cast still makes for an affordable collection. Based not on price, but on how well they move, I'd unscientifically rank the cast as follows in terms of the movie goods I handle: 1) Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., 2) Billie Burke (silent material - anything Wizard of Oz would rank ahead of Fairbanks), 3) Janet Gaynor, 4) Paulette Goddard, 5) Roland Young, 6) Richard Carlson.
Complete profiles can be found on things-and-other-stuff.com for Janet Gaynor, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Billie Burke. You'll find them decorated with movie cards and collectible images similar to our MovieMeld posts over here.
What did you think of The Young in Heart? Feel free to leave your comments below.