The Bette Davis Project: Way Back Home (1931)

Way Back Home (1931)Synopsis:

The episodic plot has Pastor Seth Parker (Phillips H. Lord, Counterspy Meets Scotland Yard) and his wife (Effie Palmer) helping the poor folks in a small rural town in Maine. The story slowly narrows its focus on the problems of a runaway kid (Frankie Darro, Wild Boys of the Road) taken in by the Parkers, and a young woman’s (Bette Davis) difficult relationship with her brutish father.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Overly sentimental Americana, based on a popular radio show of the era. Lord was a radio personality who became famous thanks to his Seth Parker Show. Producer Pandro S. Berman (Alice Adams and Top Hat) 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 — Way Back Home, directed by William A. Seiter (You Were Never Lovelier), was a notorious box-office failure.

The film’s homespun humor was ridiculed by critics and the same audiences that had made Lord a household name across the country stayed away from the film (originally titled Other People’s Business). Today, the film’s sugary tone is hard on the teeth, but its constant glorification of conservatives values might appeal to Christians.

Davis is the main reason to watch the movie. It’s her third film and while the role is not much of a challenge, she has plenty of scenes and she’s photographed well. Davis always spoke highly of the experience, and was happy with the result. It’s a typical 1930s ingénue role that she plays well. Davis comes off better than 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, Dorothy Peterson, Bennett Kilpack, Sophia M. Lord, and Stanley Fields.

P.S. Unbilled Max Steiner (Gone with the Wind and Casablanca) 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, Dark Victory, The Letter, Now, Voyager, etc.).

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Way Back Home is just cheap entertainment combined with a bit of shameless manipulation. But Davis is lovely in one of her best early roles. B&W, 81 minutes, Not Rated.

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