Tuesday, August 13, 2019

THE FIFTH ANNUAL BARRYMORE TRILOGY BLOGATHON: On Borrowed Time (1939)


Lawrence Edward Watkin's moving and thoughtful novel On Borrowed Time was adapted by playwright Paul Osborn for the Broadway stage with its themes of death and life presented to the audience in all its intimacy in 1938.

Frank Conroy, Dudley Digges, Peter Miner

That first production starred Dudley Digges as Julian, Frank Conroy as Mr. Brink, Dorothy Stickney as Nellie, Jean Adair as Aunt Demetria, and Peter Miner as Pud. MGM bought the rights to film the play and found an equally wonderful cast in Hollywood.



Today's look at the MGM production of On Borrowed Time is for The Fifth Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon hosted by Crystal at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Gabriela at Pale Writer, running from August 13th to 15th. Access the articles HERE or HERE.


Lionel Barrymore, Bobs Watson, Eily Malyon, Beulah Bondi

Lionel Barrymore and Beulah Bondi portray Julian and Nellie. On Borrowed Time would be the fourth film to feature the two actors following Christopher Bean and The Stranger's Return in 1933, The Gorgeous Hussy in 1936, and ending with It's a Wonderful Life in 1946 and Lone Star in 1952. 

Cedric Hardwicke, Lionel Barrymore, Bobs Watson

Sir Cedric Hardwicke was cast as Mr. Brink, with Bobs Watson as Pud and Eily Malyon as Aunt Demetria Riffle. Hardwicke's Mr. Brink is an entity entrusted with the responsibility of escorting souls into the hereafter. Gramps Northrup tells Pud the afterlife is the place "where the woodbine twineth."

Mr. Brink is calm and patient, with a low and soothing voice. Mr. Brink is accustomed to anxiety or reluctance from those he encounters. Mr. Brink will inveigle his subject or resignedly await their acceptance. Mr. Brink is rarely caught by surprise or perturbed. Gramps Northrup greatly perturbs Mr. Brink.

The Northrop household was once a bustling family home consisting of Dr. and Mrs. James Northrop, his parents Julian and Nellie, and the young son of the family, Pud. The young doctor and his wife gave Mr. Brink a lift in their car. The loss is a difficult one but made easier for Pud with the presence of his Gramps whom he loves more than anything in the world.

Demetria Riffle is Pud's maternal aunt and the loss of her sister is most difficult because she was expecting the gift of a much-desired trip to California. Learning that savings and an insurance policy to the tune of $55,000 are Pud's legacy, Demetria schemes to get control of the boy and his money. Demetria tries to slander Northrup's housekeeper Marcia played by Una Merkel, or at least discredit her in Nellie's eyes. Gramps tries to get ahead of Demetria's plans but the avaricious woman is too smart and quick for him.

Mr. Brink visits Nellie, who is very tired and almost finished her knitting. She is ready to accept Mr. Brink's hand. Mr. Brink had visited Gramps once before but was rebuffed in no uncertain terms. Pud was there and, as was his way, echoed his grandfather's sentiments.

Gramps had performed what he said was a good deed to which Pud advised him to make a wish and it would come true. When yet another boy tried stealing apples from their backyard tree Gramps declared that he wished he could keep such thieves up in the tree, and this wish came to be. When Mr. Brinks visited Gramps a second time, the old man asked Mr. Brink to reach him one of the Golden Russets from the tree, and Death was caught in the branches.

No one can die with Mr. Brink out of commission. What does Gramps Northrup care? His one concern is Pud. Pud must be kept out of the clutches of Demetria Riffle. Pud must be allowed to grow up a healthy, fun-loving boy, and not be turned into a sanctimonious snob. Pud needs his Gramps and Mr. Brinks has no argument to sway the old man.

Lionel Barrymore, Bobs Watson

Eventually, Dr. Evans played by Henry Travers becomes a believer in Gramp's crazy story of Mr. Brink. His calm and reasonable arguments also fall on deaf ears but he warns Julian Northrop that he will stop at nothing to obtain Mr. Brink's release from the tree as there is much suffering that only Brinks can relieve. Dr. Evans commits Gramps to a mental institution, so either way, Pud will end up out of his reach. Caught in a seemingly impossible situation, Gramps is still wily enough to turn things around to his advantage. Mr. Brinks, however, will have the final say.

Mr. Brinks: "Now you understand how much it means to your whole world to deny me."

Lionel Barrymore is cagey, bombastic, forlorn, charming, playful, admirable and stubborn in the role of Julian "Gramps" Northrup. Harold S. Bucquet, who directed Barrymore in nine of the Dr. Kildare/Gillespie pictures was the director of On Borrowed Time. A history of arthritis and broken hips led to Lionel's working from a wheelchair, and these pictures with Bucquet represent his moving to that phase of his life and career fulltime.

On Borrowed Time is an emotional and memorable fantasy produced by Sidney Franklin (Waterloo Bridge) at MGM with cinematography by Joseph Ruttenberg (Gaslight), and a score by Franz Waxman (Peyton Place). I was surprised to note that with its pedigree and virtues, On Borrowed Time did not receive any award nominations before recalling that its year of release was 1939 when Hollywood enjoyed a surfeit of quality.


Connections:

Beulah Bondi who played Nellie in our movie also played the role in a 1953 Broadway revival of On Borrowed Time opposite Victor Moore, her co-star in the Leo McCarey classic Make Way for Tomorrow. David Stollery (The Adventures of Spin and Marty) played young Pud and Leo G. Carroll (The Man from U.N.C.L.E) was Mr. Brink.

Beulah Bondi again played Nellie in a 1957 television production on the Hallmark Hall of Fame with Ed Wynn as Gramps, Claude Rains as Mr. Brink, and Margaret Hamilton as Demetria.

Dorothy Stickney who played Nellie in the 1938 Broadway production repeated the role on television in 1949 on The Ford Theatre Hour with Walter Hampden as Gramps and Basil Rathbone as Mr. Brink.












28 comments:

  1. I always thought that ON BORROWED TIME would make an interesting double-feature with DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY. Lionel Barrymore seemed to specialize in playing crusty, cantankerous characters and this is one of his best portrayals of that kind. I didn't realize he and Beulah Bondi did so many movies together. Pud--what a name!

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    1. I haven't seen Death Takes a Holiday in such a long time that when I read the title my mind went to Monte Markham.

      Yeah. Pud. I've been going on the premise that it is some sort of nickname for name that starts with "P", but you never know.

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  2. Caftan Woman, have you been a fan of the BARRYMORES very long? Do you recall which one you saw in movies first-ETHEL, LIONEL or JOHN? Do you know the work of JOHN DREW BARRYMORE, the son of John Barrymore? I mostly know LIONEL and ETHEL. I mentioned once that I saw Ethel in PINKY with JEANNE CRAIN. I read that Ethel played the mother to CARY GRANT once(I think). Ethel didn't play the mother very often, did she?

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    1. Lionel was the first Barrymore I got to know through local television showing the Dr. Kildare/Dr. Gillespie movies. Through the years he has impressed in many movies such as Broken Lullaby, Down to the Sea in Ships, Ah, Wilderness, and Key Largo.

      I adore John in Grand Hotel, Counsellor-at-Law, Twentieth Cetury and Dinner at Eight. Ethel amazes me in Kind Lady, The Spiral Staircase and others.

      John Drew Barrymore has not impressed me much. On an episode of Gunsmoke, he seemed disinterested until a monologue and then you could see the spark of the family business.

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  3. Hello, Paddy! :-D I haven't seen this but the cast alone makes it very appealing. I adore both Cedric Hardwicke and Henry Travers. Out of all the Barrymores, I have seen more of Lionel's work and I enjoy him more with time. I am still very marked by his villainous role as Mr. Potter, a performance which Lionel executed so very well.
    I will be sure to check this film out when I get the chance! :-)

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  4. It is both interesting and emotional, and I doubt if MGM had anyone other than Lionel in mind when they bought the rights to film On Borrowed Time. I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

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  5. This was my best friend's favorite movie as a child and she introduced me to it years ago. It has such a charming way of mixing humor with deeper introspection.

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    1. It is the sort of movie one wants to share. You choose the special friends.

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  6. MARIA OBRIEN turned 69 Wednesday. She was in the movie SMILE. She guest-starred on CHICO AND THE MAN, POLICE WOMAN, IRONSIDE and QUINCY, M.E. She did an ep of CHIPS as the sister of PONCH. She also did an ep of MURDER, SHE WROTE. Her father was character actor EDMUND OBRIEN who was in THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE and lots of other movies. Her mother was OLGA SAN JUAN. I saw her in THE BEAUTIFUL BLONDE FROM BASHFUL BEND with BETTY GRABLE. What do you know EDMUND best from?

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    1. I meant to include that Maria was once married to actor MICHAEL ANDERSON, JR. They have one child. Sometimes Marias voice makes me think of actress CONSTANCE FORSLUND.I really liked Constance in an ep of ONE DAY AT A TIME where she played Julies roommate Bunny. She did an ep of MSW. She played GINGER in the third GILLIGANS ISLAND reunion movie. TINA LOUISE declined to appear and JUDITH BALDWIN did the first two. Also Constance Forslund got to play MARILYN MONROE in THIS YEARS BLONDE. The GILLIGAN movie aired in 1981 and the MM one(I didn't see it) aired in 1980 or 81. So Miss Forslund was on a roll there for a while when it came to playing sexy parts.

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    2. After all these years, I hadn't realized Maria O'Brien was the daughter of Edmond and Olga. Olga was such a vibrant performer. I love watching her in the movie Blue Skies.

      Edmond I know from so many movies from The Hunchback of Notre Dame to The Killers, Another Part of the Forest, An Act of Murder, D.O.A., White Heat, The Hitchhiker, and so many more.

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  7. There was/is the famous RITTER family. Cowboy/actor TEX RITTER, his son JOHN and JASON(the son of JOHN). Johns ex-wife is NANCY MORGAN. His widow is AMY YASBECK. Nancy is the mother of Jason and two other children. Amy is the mother of Johns daughter Stella. Johns brother Tom is a lawyer. Their mother DOROTHY was an actress at one time. John said his mom was like AUNTIE MAME. John was a good actor. I know him from his hit show THREES COMPANY and earlier he was the preacher for 16 episodes(I think) of THE WALTONS. I know him from TV-Movies. John did the two PROBLEM CHILD movies. Do you know TEX, JOHN and JASON?

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    1. I recall John saying once, cheekily, that when he was young he thought his the movies with his dad were documentaries of his life before he got married and had a family.

      I remember Jason from Joan of Arcadia.

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  8. I know MICHAEL ANDERSON, JR. from THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER that Ive mentioned before. (I read about who MARIA OBRIENS parents were a little over 20 years ago.) Also do you recall actress CONSTANCE FORSLUND? If so have you ever noticed a vocal resemblance between her and MARIA?

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    1. I can't say I recall Constance Forslund from the shows I must have seen her in, or Maria O'Brien.

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  9. MARIA OBRIEN was in a TV-Movie PROMISED A MIRACLE with ROSANNA ARQUETTE. It aired on CBS in 1987 or 88. The ARQUETTES-what an acting legacy! Three brothers and two sisters. Their dad LEWIS. Their grandpa, was his name CLIFF? I don't think I know his work. I read that he was on HOLLYWOOD SQUARES as CHARLEY WEAVER. I mentioned JOHN RITTER was on THE WALTONS. Later LEWIS ARQUETTE was on that series as ERINS boss J.D. PICKETT.

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    1. I never made that connection between Lewis Arquette and his offspring. Quite a legacy indeed. I used to get quite a kick out of Cliff's Charley Weaver character on Hollywood Squares.

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  10. Theres the VAN DYKE family. DICK VAN DYKE and his younger brother JERRY(now deceased). Do you know JERRYS work very well? He was in MY MOTHER THE CAR and years later he was on the long-running show COACH with CRAIG T. NELSON and the delightful SHELLEY FABARES. Also there is BARRY VAN DYKE(the son of DICK and nephew of JERRY). We have talked about DIAGNOSIS MURDER being a great show with the right mix of mystery and humor. Barry played Steve very well. Being Steve Sloan was a cop he got to chase people different times like back in the day when there were really good detective shows. Barry and his wife Mary have been married since 1974-for 45 years! All four of their kids, three boys and a girl, have appeared on DIAGNOSIS MURDER. Do you remember the character ALEX SMITH played by SHANE VAN DYKE?

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    1. Jerry is a fave of mine. He always made me laugh. I didn't watch Coach, but I did watch him in Yes, Dear.

      Jerry's last television work was as Patricia Heaton's dad on The Middle. In a touching and funny episode, Dick Van Dyke played his estranged brother with whom he reunited.

      I do remember all those interns on Diagnosis Murder.

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  11. You mentioned that LIONEL BARRYMORE and BEULAH BONDI were in ITS A WONDERFUL LIFE. HENRY TRAVERS was also in that movie as CLARENCE. I think he gave a wonderful performance. (He is in this movie as Dr. Evans.) Looking over his credits I noticed that he played doctors in DARK VICTORY and DODGE CITY. He also played GRAMPS in PRIMROSE PATH with GINGER ROGERS.(Ive seen these three movies.)

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    1. You may find it interesting that Henry Travers played Grandpa Vanderhoff in the original Broadway production of You Can't Take It With You in 1936, the role that Lionel Barrymore played in the movie version in 1938.

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  12. CHRISTIAN SLATER is 50 today. He is a second generation actor in his family. His dad MICHAEL HAWKINS was the original FRANK RYAN on RYANS HOPE. Hawkins was born THOMAS KNIGHT SLATER. Christians mother is casting director MARY JO SLATER. Do you know RYANS HOPE? I didn't see the show until SOAP NET started showing the reruns in 2004, they only went up until the early 80s and then would start over again. I liked ILENE KRISTIN in the role of DELIA and RANDALL EDWARDS did a good job too. Soap Net didn't show the ROBIN MATTSON eps or when ILENE came back to play DELIA again. I liked the actor that played PATRICK RYAN to begin with. I think his last name is GROOM. I thought DELIA called him PATTY but maybe she was saying PADDY.

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    1. I was right about Patrick Ryan. He was played by MALCOLM GROOME. I think EARL HINDMAN did a great job as BOB REID who was a cop and the protective brother of Delia. Earl was later on HOME IMPROVEMENT as the neighbor WILSON that the audience never saw his entire face. That Delia sure did want to be a RYAN. She played the damsel in distress that Patrick would rescue. First she was married to Frank then his brother Patrick. At one time the part of FAITH COLERIDGE was played by CATHERINE HICKS who played ANNIE CAMDEN on all 11 seasons of 7th Heaven. The show aired from 1996 to 2007.

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    2. I watched Ryan's Hope back when it began. Really enjoyed the program. I saw Randall Edwards on Broadway in Biloxi Blues. Ilene Kristen had a few appearances on General Hospital as Delia Ryan. A General Hospital character, Ava played by Mara West turned out to be an illegitimate child Delia gave up for adoption. The character hasn't reappeared on the show, but was mentioned just last week.

      I didn't watch home Improvement or 7th Heaven, but it was a pleasant thing to think of folks you used to watch still working. I haven't thought of Malcolm Groome in a while. My, he was a cutie.

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  13. You're the second blogger to write only good things about On Borroweed Time. I'll certainly watch this movie - and bonus points because Lionel is my favorite Barrymore!
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!

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    1. Lionel is my favourite as well. I think it is because we are both grumpy Taureans, or we pretend to be.

      Thank you.

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  14. I agree-MALCOLM GROOME sure was a cutie! I liked JOHNNY & MAEVE on the show too. I read that Maeve would sing on the show every year for ST. PATRICKS DAY and she sang on the last episode. KATE MULGREW was good as the original MARY. SOAP NET didn't show these eps but later YASMINE BLEETH and MARG HELGENBERGER were on the show. I like Marg in TV-Movies and Yasmine is best known for BAYWATCH. Like I stated earlier Soap Net didn't show the ROBIN MATTSON eps. Do you recall if you liked Robin as Delia?

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    1. When I want a good cry I will go the final Ryan's Hope episode on YouTube and watch Helen Gallagher singing.

      I liked both Randall Edwards and Robin Mattson as Delia. They are fine actresses who brought something special to the role. However, Ilene Kristen is definitive. There is no one like her. Loved her as Roxy on One Life to Live as well.

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