For Reel

Big Hearted Herbert (1934)
April 19, 2012, 8:03 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: William Keighley

A dull but well-intentioned domestic revenge fantasy, Big Hearted Herbert concerns the plight of a loving family who must put their tyrannical patriarch in his place. Based on a play by writers Sophie Kerr and Anna Steese Richardson, the narrative holds a number of truths today – in fact, the title character’s dismissal of college educated adults is not dissimilar from certain contemporary politicians. Guy Kibbee plays the insufferable father, who is so proud of being a self-made, blue-collar man that he refuses to let his son go to a university. The early moments are enormously depressing – Aline McMahon, as his wife, has to play chipper even in the aftermath of Herbert’s constant berating, which is all too familiar of the characterizations of the common housewife in classic Hollywood cinema. When she and her children play their prank on Herbert to set him straight, however, its a nice, empowering moment, one in which the women and the children quite literally seize control of their domestic rights. Kibbee fares well and intelligently does very little to humanize the character, however the supporting roles are forgettable and perhaps don’t convey enough bitterness to make plausible the sequence in which the table is turned. Director William Keighley’s efforts are workmanlike and little more. If not a remarkably interesting movie in its aesthetics or performances, the domestic revolution at its center is quite progressive for Code-era Hollywood.

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