His Family Tree
Cast & Crew
Because his son Charles has not responded to any of his letters, Patrick Murphy, an Irish boatswain and pub owner, leaves his Kerry County home to find Charles in America. When Patrick arrives at his son's lavish house, he discovers that, at the insistence of Charles' ambitious, social-climbing wife Margaret, Charles has changed his name to Murfree and is running for mayor against the incumbent, John J. "Jolly John" Holtsapple. To protect Charles' campaign, only Margaret, his daughter Elinor and his campaign managers, Mike Donovan and Stonehill, are told of Patrick's presence. Soon after, however, Holtsapple's managers spread a rumor that Charles is not the descendent of the aristocratic Tennessee Murfree family, but is a common Irish immigrant named Murphy. These rumors cause widow Nellie Oulihan, the political leader of the Irish fourth precinct, to withdraw her support of Charles and to hold an "indignation meeting" above the Gilligan brothers' bar. The fun-loving Patrick, however, turns the meeting into a dance and, in front of Elinor and her fiancé, the snobbish Dudley Weatherby, convinces Nellie and her followers that Charles really is a Murfree. After Holtsapple's supporters send a spy to Tennessee to "dig dirt" on Murfree, Patrick sprays the portly candidate with a fire extinguisher as he concludes a particularly insipid radio speech. Disgusted by Patrick's display, Dudley ridicules him in front of Elinor, who in anger rejects him and reveals her grandfather's identity. Margaret then insults Nellie, who has fallen in love with widower Patrick, and causes Charles to lose the fourth precinct once again. Discouraged, Patrick gets drunk one evening and, as Holtsapple discloses in a rally that Charles' real name is Murphy, defiantly reveals his relationship to Charles. The news of Charles' deception sends his campaign into a tailspin, and desperate to prevent his defeat, Donovan and Elinor talk Patrick into campaigning. Aided by a plaster pig named "Johnny John," Patrick begins to turn the townspeople against Holtsapple. At the start of a crucial radio debate, however, the vengeful Dudley connives to have Patrick abducted and held prisoner in an apartment building so that Holtsapple can accuse Charles of turning out his own father. Using his boatswain's whistle, the bound and gagged Patrick alerts the Gilligan brothers to his whereabouts and is rescued in time to prevent Holtsapple from defaming Charles. After Charles wins the election as a Murphy, Elinor and Donovan, and Patrick and Nellie vote for marriage.
His Family Tree (1935) - His Family Tree
The plot concerns a trip by one Patrick Murphy from his home in Ireland to the U.S. Concerned that his son has not responded to letters, Patrick arrives to find he's running for mayor of his city, has changed his name to Murfree, and is married to a woman with an anti-Irish bias (an attitude far more prevalent in the early 20th century than it is today). Patrick makes it his mission to restore his son's pride in his heritage.
Beyond the message of ethnic pride (played mostly for comedy, of course), one of the chief attractions of this movie is its star, the classic Irish-American vaudeville performer James Barton (1890-1962). Born into a theatrical family, Barton began working in minstrel shows and burlesque houses as a child, learning tap dancing from the many African-American performers he appeared with. Barton gets to show his skills in three routines in this movie, one of his first features. While continuing his stage career, he landed numerous character roles in the years after His Family Tree, including his memorable turn as Kit Carson ("a cowboy also known as Murphy," according to the credits) in The Time of Your Life (1948), an adaptation of the William Saroyan play starring James Cagney. He also had a prominent role as Jane Wyman's father in Here Comes the Groom (1951) with Bing Crosby, who considered Barton one of the greatest of all entertainers. His last feature film role was as an old man in the bar scene in John Huston's The Misfits (1961). Barton was also the original Ben Rumson in the 1951-52 Broadway musical Paint Your Wagon, the part taken by Lee Marvin in the 1969 film version.
Another notable player in the cast of His Family Tree is Irish-born Maureen Delaney (1888-1961), who resumed her stage career in England right after this production. She would not make another film until Carol Reed's Odd Man Out (1947) with James Mason. She also had a role in Hitchcock's Under Capricorn (1949). Delaney appeared on Broadway in 1959 in God and Kate Murphy, earning a Tony Award nomination for her work.
His Family Tree was directed by Charles Vidor, better known for the film noir classic Gilda (1946) and the Doris Day-James Cagney musical drama Love Me or Leave Me (1955).
Here's one more bit of fascinating trivia about James Barton: It is said that while touring with the musical Dew Drop Inn with actress Claire Hodgson, Barton introduced her to baseball legend Babe Ruth before a New York Yankees-Washington Senators game in D.C. Hodgson became Ruth's second wife in 1929.
Director: Charles Vidor
Producer: Cliff Reid (associate producer)
Screenplay: Joel Sayre, John Twist, based on the play Old Man Murphy by Patrick Kearney and Harry Wagstaff Gribble
Cinematography: Lucien Andriot
Editing: Jack Hively
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Original Music: Alberto Colombo
Cast: James Barton (Patrick Murphy), Margaret Callahan (Elinor Murfree), Addison Randall (Mike Donovan), Maureen Delaney (Nellie Oulihan), William Harrigan (Charles Murfree).
by Rob Nixon
His Family Tree (1935) - His Family Tree
The working title of this film was Old Man Murphy.