Smilin' Through Movie Review
Director: Sidney Franklin
Starring: Norma Shearer, Fredric March, Leslie Howard, O. P. Heggie, Ralph Forbes, Beryl Mercer, Margaret Seddon, Forrester Harvey
Oscar Wins: No wins.
Other Nominations: Best Picture
If you’re one of those folks who’ll watch The Notebook or A Walk to Remember just for the sake of having a good cry, I’ve got another movie you can add to your rotation.
It’s John and Moonyeen’s wedding day. The sun is shining, the flowers are in bloom and after an evening of drunken merriment, the two love birds are more than eager to zip through those formalities and get straight to the honeymoon. But their day of merriment takes a devastating turn when Moonyeen is mortally shot by her jealous former suitor. In the arms of her new husband, still clad in her wedding gown surrounded by her family and friends in the middle of the church, Moonyeen succumbs to her injury.
Thirty years later, John (Leslie Howard) is a lonely man living a life of solitude. He plays chess, he naps, he goes for walks in his garden and talks with the ghost of his dead wife. His life is pretty vanilla – that is until his 5-year-old orphaned niece, Kathleen, is sent to live with him.
The years pass and Kathleen is now a woman, basically the spitting image of the dead Moonyeen (both rolls are actually played by the same actress – Norma Shearer). Though she’s promised to her childhood friend Willie, a dark and stormy night brings a man named Kenneth Wayne (Fredric March) into her life, and the two fall into a quick romance. Kathleen is ready to leave her life behind and marry him instead – that is until she discovers Kenneth is the son of the man who killed Moonyeen.
I don't want to give away too much more, but let's just say the ending of this movie fits it perfectly – purely sweet, sappy and sad. Taking place in London during World War I, the terror of war echoes throughout the film. Bombs and gunshots can be heard in the distance, the windows of a cozy tea house rattle, characters return from war wounded physically and mentally – all a ghostly reminder that, no matter how happy we are, no matter how hard we try to escape the world and retreat to romantic visions of what’s to be, death is always looming, always present.
And speaking of ghosts, the idea of the afterlife weaves dreamily throughout this movie, with soft-focus scenes of past events overlaying the present. Not many films can get away with this old-school film technique, but Smilin’ Through can. Not to be too on-the-nose, but it's almost like a love letter to love – its simplicity, its whimsy and, most importantly, its finality.