Smilin' Through (1932)
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Originally a stage play, then a silent film directed by Sidney Franklin, Smilin' Through had its first sound-film treatment in 1932 in a version again directed by Franklin and starring Norma Shearer, Fredric March and Leslie Howard. (A musical version, starring Jeanette MacDonald and Gene Raymond, would appear in 1941.)
The sentimental story, beginning in 1868 England, tells of a man (Howard) whose fiancee (Shearer) is inadvertently killed on her wedding day by a jealous suitor (March) who intends to shoot her groom. Years later, the Howard character takes in his beloved's orphaned niece (also played by Shearer), who is a dead ringer for his former love and who falls for the son of the jilted suitor (also played by March). The embittered Howard attempts to foil the romance - until the spirit of his youthful love intervenes.
The MGM production, which would win an Academy Award nomination as Best Picture, was given first-class treatment by production supervisor Irving Thalberg, Shearer's husband. Thalberg scored a casting coup by pairing Shearer, who had won an Oscar for The Divorcee (1930), and March, who was about to win for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931). Teaming two of Hollywood's most accomplished and popular actors - in double roles, yet - ensured the movie's commercial success. For Smilin' Through Shearer agreed, at studio head Louis B. Mayer's request, to allow more than one male co-star to receive top billing with her. She did, however, specify that March's and Howard's names appear below her own, "in type no larger than 75% of that used to display my name."
Cameraman Lee Garmes would recall that working with Shearer created unusual problems because she had a cast in one eye and feared being photographed in a manner that would make her look "cross-eyed." The tactful Garmes would find some other excuse if he was forced to interrupt a scene for this reason: "I'd stop the camera and say, loudly, something like, 'A light went out.' And I'd fiddle around a bit until she'd blink a signal at me and she could finish the shot."
Producer: Irving Thalberg (uncredited)
Director: Sidney Franklin
Screenplay: Ernest Vajda, Claudine West, James B. Fagan, Donald Ogden Stewart, from the play by Jane Cowl and Jane Murfin
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Cinematography: Lee Garmes
Costume Design: Adrian
Editing: Margaret Booth
Original Music: William Axt (uncredited)
Cast: Norma Shearer (Kathleen Sheridan/Moonyeen Clare), Fredric March (Kenneth Wayne/Jeremy Wayne), Leslie Howard (Sir John Carteret), O.P. Heggie (Dr. Owen), Ralph Forbes (Willie Ainley).
BW-98m. Closed captioning.
by Roger Fristoe