So Big! (1932)

So Big! (1932)

Synopsis:

In the late 19th century, a young woman, Selina (Barbara Stanwyck, Double Indemnity), finds herself penniless after the sudden death of her beloved father (Robert Warwick, Sullivan’s Travels). Selina is forced to take up a job as a teacher to a family of poor farmers. She eventually agrees to marry a Dutch farmer (Earle Fox, Four Sons) thus beginning a life filled with hardships and disappointments.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“You’re all smooth. And I like ’em bumpy.”

Based upon Edna Ferber’s Pulitzer-winning book of the same name, So Big! is a solid attempt at a two-generation saga. The book became a runaway success, and this film adaptation of the book was a hit too. The story of an American woman whose personal motto is “survival-at-any-cost” was perfect for Depression-Era audiences.

Despite the film’s relatively small budget, director William A. Wellman (The Ox-Bow Incident) is able to show the scope of the human struggle. Wellman accomplishes a great deal with very little. He also gets fine performances from the excellent cast.

There are many memorable moments in the movie, but this is Barbara Stanwyck’s show all the way. Stanwyck is simply terrific as a woman who experiences all sorts of tribulations, surviving it all. Stanwyck also convincingly plays the main character at various stages in her life: from naive teenager to world-weary old woman.

Bette Davis has a rather small but pivotal role as a free-spirited artist. She has precious little screen time, but Davis does utter the movie’s famous final line. She apparently enjoyed making the film. Unfortunately, Davis doesn’t have any scenes with Stanwyck — I would have loved to see an interaction between these two great actors!

George Brent (The Spiral Staircase), in his second of eleven films with Davis, plays her love interest. Also starring Alan Hale (The Adventures of Robin Hood), Dickie Moore (Sergeant York) and Hardie Albright (The Working Man). Anne Shirley (The Devil and Daniel Webster) plays Selina as a child (interestingly, Stanwyck and Shirley play mother and daughter in the classic weepie Stella Dallas).

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Stanwyck’s performance is fantastic, Wellman’s direction is flawless, and the story is poignant and credible. The film’s message of perseverance still resonates today. So Big! is a nice little film with a big heart. The film is also notable as costume designer Orry-Kelly’s (Les Girls and Some Like it Hot) first Hollywood production. Remade in 1952, with Jane Wyman (Johnny Belinda) as Selina. B&W, 81 minutes, Not Rated.

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