Way Back Home (1931)

Synopsis:

In a small rural town in Maine, Pastor Seth Parker (Phillips H. Lord, Counterspy Meets Scotland Yard) is famous for helping the needy. Parker focuses mostly on the problems of a runaway kid (Frankie Darro, Wild Boys of the Road) taken in by Parker and a young woman’s (Bette Davis) difficult relationship with her brutish father.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“Pa’ isn’t fair and I’m going anyway.”

Way Back Home is based on a popular radio show of the era. The film’s lead actor, Phillips H. Lord, was a radio personality who became famous thanks to his “Seth Parker Show.” Producer Pandro S. Berman (Alice Adams and Stage Door) wanted to cash in on the popularity of the radio show, but he quickly found out that radio fame doesn’t necessarily translate into movie stardom — the film was a notorious box-office failure.

Directed by William A. Seiter (You Were Never Lovelier), the film’s homespun-humor and overly sentimental tone were ridiculed by critics. In addition, the same audience that had made Lord a household name across the country stayed home.

Bette Davis is the main reason to watch the movie. It’s her fourth feature-length film and while her role is not much of a challenge (it’s a typical 1930s ingénue role), Davis has plenty of scenes and she’s photographed well. Davis always spoke highly of the experience and was happy with the movie and her performance.

Davis comes off better than the folksy Lord, who has obvious problems toning down his character for the camera. Unfortunately, the movie’s failure at the box office emphasized the idea that Davis was not movie star material. The cast also includes Frank Albertson (It’s a Wonderful Life) and Stanley Fields (Island of Lost Souls).

Oscar-winning composer Max Steiner (The Informer and Since You Went Away) wrote the music score. This is the beginning of his long association with Davis. Steiner wrote the score for Davis’s biggest hits at Warner Bros.: Jezebel (1938), Dark Victory (1939), The Letter (1940), Now, Voyager (1942), A Stolen Life (1946), etc.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Way Back Home is cheap entertainment combined with a bit of shameless manipulation. Today, the film’s sugary tone is hard on the teeth, but its constant glorification of conservative values might appeal to Christian viewers. Bette Davis is lovely in one of her best early roles. B&W, 81 minutes, Not Rated.

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