powered by AFI
Giorgi Papashvily, an immigrant from Georgia in Russia, arrives in New York City on an ocean liner. Giorgi speaks no English, but his friend, Nuri Bey, a Turk, translates for him as he is interviewed by an immigration official. The official welcomes Giorgi, saying that all people are foreigners in America. Enthralled by the city, Giorgi gets a job tarring roofs, and as he gradually learns to speak English, he asks around town about his uncle John, a chef with whom he has communicated since 1936. When Pedras, one of his friends, picks some flowers in Central Park, Giorgi, Pedras and Nuri Bey are ticketed by an officer. They go to a "fixer" to take care of the ticket, but Giorgi refuses to pay him, saying he is not guilty. In court, while mangling the language, Giorgi convinces the judge that he did not pick the flowers. Helen Watson, the court transcriber, is pleased to learn that Giorgi is from Georgia, and after the judge dismisses the case, tells Giorgi that she is a collector of folk music. Learning that he can sing and play on the guitar songs from his village, she invites him to her apartment to sing and record for her and other folk song collectors. On one of the recordings, he recognizes the voice of Uncle John. He then locates Uncle John working at a restaurant, and Uncle John brings Giorgi to live at the boardinghouse of Anna Godiedze, home to immigrants from a number of different countries. Helen invites Giorgi and Nuri Bey to dinner, and after she twice calls Giorgi "a darling," he finds the meaning of the word in a dictionary as "dearly beloved." Striken with love, he invites her to the boardinghouse for dinner. During the meal, Giorgi, now five months in America, looks over his friends and comments that if a Georgian, Syrian, Turk and Armenian can eat together, then in America, "anything can happen." When Uncle John sadly tells Helen that he failed the citizenship test because he mixed up the names of presidents, she offers to coach him. Sometime later, the boarders, seeing that Giorgi is heartsick, decide he should propose to Helen; however, before he can ask her, she relates that her grandmother in Pasadena has had a stroke, and she must fly there for two weeks. She calls him "dear" and kisses him on the cheek before she leaves. Two months later, Giorgi is despondent, as Helen has reported that her grandmother has gotten neither better nor worse. Uncle John proposes that they go to California with money he has saved. To their dismay, the whole household wants to join them, except for Eliko Tornavily, who has tried to keep records on all Georgians living in the U.S. In the Southwest, the group gets stuck in a hole. Giorgi finds two American Indians to help, and Uncle John instructs the group to treat them with respect, as they were the first citizens of the country. As they approach Los Angeles, they decide to go first to Azusa, where Eliko's cousin Besso lives. When Giorgi expresses the wish to own a ranch like Besso's, where he could grow oranges, Besso offers to lend him money, saying he wants to move to Nevada, where the nearest neighbor would be fifty miles away, and Giorgi agrees. He visits Helen and her grandmother, who takes a liking to him. Seeing that he is humbled by their expensive house and vast acreage of orange trees, Helen's grandmother tells of the success of her husband, a poor man who emigrated from Scotland in 1903 when he was Giorgi's age. This incites Giorgi's determination, and he writes Eliko, who asks all the Georgians in California to come with their friends one Sunday to help overhaul the ranch. Uncle John, who plans to take the citizenship exam soon, reveals to Helen that once the ranch is in operation, Giorgi plans to marry her. Greatly shaken, Helen admits to Uncle John that she is not in love. She tries to tell Giorgi, but because of his great enthusiasm over his plans, she cannot. During a celebration for Besso, Uncle John suffers a heart attack. As he lies in bed dying, Helen brings a judge to his bedside, who, after questioning him on the reasons immigrants have come to the U.S., administers the oath and confers citizenship on the proud man. Uncle John dies holding Giorgi's and Helen's hands. At Christmas time, Helen's grandmother talks to her about Giorgi, reminding her that Helen's former husband did not need her, while Giorgi does. She advises Helen that the only basis for marriage is to be needed and wanted in everyday life, not the "chill up and down her spine" that Helen says she does not get from Giorgi. Just then, the radio broadcasts frost warnings. Helen is upset that Giorgi has not gotten expert help with his orange trees. She rushes to his groves and with irritation yells and instructs Giorgi, who has been using a book, that he is improperly placing the smudge pots. The next day, after most of the trees have been saved, Giorgi proposes. She accepts, she says, because she now feels she needs him.