Gary Cooper (The Pride of the Yankees and High Noon) plays a good-hearted man whose efforts to help others annoy most people, his wife (Ann Sheridan, They Drive by Night and The Man Who Came to Dinner) included.
Reaction & Thoughts:
Not unlike Leo McCarey’s other Christmastime favorites, Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary’s, Good Sam is an episodic, laid-back comedy-drama. McCarey was very adept at blending hilarity with sentiment — Make Way for Tomorrow, Love Affair, and An Affair to Remember are other fine examples of the director’s style — so I was expecting something really good. Good Sam ended up disappointing me; the premise of the film is interesting and there are some laughs, but the end result doesn’t hit the bull’s-eye.
That being said, Good Sam is an intriguing little film. It’s particularly interesting the way the film dissects the idea of altruism. I’m willing to bet that the film looks more interesting now than ever before because modern Christians tend to have a libertarian streak. Cooper’s Sam clearly believes in “spreading the wealth,” but what does that make him? A socialist, a Christian, a good man, or just a fool? Director-writer McCarey doesn’t have the answer, but I applaud him for exploring the positive and negative implications of selflessness in modern society.
Ken Englund’s script, based on an original story by director McCarey and John Klorer, is a collection of vignettes that vary in quality. The fine acting by a really good cast holds the movie together.
The Coop is one of the funniest non-comedians. He is a master at being funny without looking like he is trying to be funny. I love that about him! Cooper has some great funny moments, but the script is, unfortunately, not strong enough. But few actors can suggest basic human decency as well as Cooper, which is exactly what the role demands. Sheridan’s cynicism cuts nicely through the sentiment. She and Cooper do a nice job representing contrasting points of view — self-interest vs philanthropy.
I also enjoyed the performances of the talented supporting cast: Ray Collins (Citizen Kane) as Reverend Daniels, Joan Lorring (The Corn is Green) as Shirley Mae, Ruth Roman (Strangers on a Train) as Ruthie, and Louise Beavers (the original Imitation of a Life) as Chloe.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Today, moviegoers seem to get rattled by unbelievably good characters. I think most of us feel more comfortable watching films with characters that share our flaws — I guess it’s comforting to know that we are not the only ones with problems. Good Sam is a real curio in that regard. The title character is not just good; he’s out-of-this-world good. The “Old Good Samaritan” does manage to plant a nagging question in our heads: what’s the true meaning of the word “charity”? Although far, far from perfect, Good Sam has an ambitious premise that makes you think. B&W, 114 minutes, Not Rated.