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Edward, My Son (1949) marked a distinct change of pace for stars Spencer Tracy and Deborah Kerr. For the latter, it was an unusually solid dramatic role during her years under contract to MGM, where she was mostly cast to provide class to the studio's line-up of light comedies and epics. For Tracy, the role marked a rare villainous turn, his first since the 1941 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. During the course of the film, he commits arson, drives his wife to drink and drives another man to suicide, all in his efforts to secure his son's future. And in the process, he turns the son into a monster.
The story had started as a play in London, co-written by and starring Robert Morley, who was best known for comic performances. He had chilled audiences in the role, however, providing narration that links events from the child's birth through adulthood. And in a gimmick that guaranteed audience interest, he did it all with out ever showing the title character.
Director George Cukor saw the wisdom of that choice and decided to stick as close to the original as possible. The only major change was turning Tracy's character from an Englishman to a Canadian so the star would not have to adopt an accent. And though Tracy worried about tackling the unsympathetic role at first, he soon warmed to the opportunity, later confessing to Cukor that "It's rather disconcerting to me to find out how easily I play a heel."
As Tracy's drunken wife, a role that had made Peggy Ashcroft a major stage star in London, Cukor considered Tracy's frequent co-star and off-screen love, Katharine Hepburn, but the two stars were sensitive about working together too often. Then Deborah Kerr, who had come to MGM from London two years earlier, campaigned for the role.
Kerr had been a major dramatic actress in England and had recently won the New York Film Critics Award for two of her last British films, Black Narcissus (1947) and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943). After a few colorless roles at MGM, she campaigned to play Tracy's wife. The result was a powerful performance that brought Kerr her first Oscar nomination for Best Actress (Tracy was nominated too, but both lost). Though her devastating drunk scenes brought praise from critics and colleagues, she got a very different reaction from her mother. "I'm sure it's very good acting, dear," she wrote in a letter to Kerr, "but I just don't like to see you like that."
Director: George Cukor
Producer: Edwin H. Knopf
Screenplay: Donald Ogden Stewart, based on the play by Noel Langley and Robert Morley
Cinematography: Freddie Young
Editor: Raymond Poulton
Art Direction: Alfred Junge
Music: Miklos Rozsa
Cast: Spencer Tracy (Arnold Boult), Deborah Kerr (Evelyn Boult), Ian Hunter (Dr. Larry Woodhope), James Donald (Bronton), Leueen MacGrath (Eileen Perrin).
BW-113m. Close captioning.
by Frank Miller