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Come and Get It

Come and Get It
MGM Home Entertainment
1936 / B&W / 1:37 flat full frame/ 99 min. / Street Date March 8, 2005 / 14.98
Starring Edward Arnold, Joel McCrea, Frances Farmer, Walter Brennan, Mady Christians, Mary Nash, Andrea Leeds, Frank Shields
Cinematography Rudolph Mate, Gregg Toland
Art Direction Richard Day
Film Editor Edward Curtiss
Original Music Alfred Newman
Written by Jules Furthman, Jane Murfin from the novel by Edna Ferber
Produced by Samuel Goldwyn
Directed by Howard Hawks, William Wyler

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Savant likes movies based on the multi-generational stories of Edna Ferber; most of them are at least interesting and several are great pictures: Giant, Cimarron, Showboat. This 1936 Goldwyn production is the best opportunity to appreciate the actress Frances Farmer. The movie is about ambition, success and the people that get left behind, and it creates a potent aura of nostalgia.

Synopsis (spoilers):

1884. Tireless logger Barney Glasgow (Edward Arnold) not only has the best record for clearing timber in Minnesota, he has a scheme to use railroad right-of-ways to increase the lumber company's rape of the timberland tenfold. He talks his boss Mr. Hewitt (Charles Halton) into a partnership worth millions, but it has one catch - Hewitt wants a husband for his plain daughter Emma Louise (Mary Nash). Carousing with his friend Swan Bostrum (Walter Brennan), Barney meets the love of his live at exactly the wrong time - a spirited saloon singer named Lotta Morgan (Frances Farmer). After a brief flirtation he skips out to return to the Hewitts and his fortune. Broken hearted, Lotta marries Swan, "The kindest man she knows."

1907. Barney is now 50 and one of the most powerful paper mill owners in America, making do with his tepid marriage to Emma Louise. His daughter Evvie (Andrea Leeds) wants to marry a lowly paper mill worker named Tony Schwerke (Frank Shields). Visiting the old town for the first time in years, Barney meets Swan's daughter Lotta - the exact likeness of her dead mother. Barney's ambitious son Richard (Joel McCrea) meets her too and is smitten as well. Barney entertains ideas of "keeping" Lotta in Chicago, or perhaps leaving his wife to marry her ...

Come and Get It is only 99 minutes long and is even shorter after one subtracts a lumber-cutting montage prologue. The story is organized beautifully into just a few powerful scenes and never seems rushed. It has both economy and depth and keeps up a pace without sacrificing content. That's doubly impressive considering that its direction was split between two of the top names in Hollywood; William Wyler took over after Howard Hawks was fired by Sam Goldwyn. One has to think that the movie was shot in script order. Earlier scenes are more comedic and boisterous, full of long takes and overlapping dialogue we associate with Hawks. The later dramatic passages involve a full family in a social situation, with more familiar romantic conflicts. They look exactly like the work of William Wyler, especially when a major scene takes place on a staircase!

The story grabs us right away. Edward Arnold's Barney Glasgow is an American success clearly defined as a pirate demolishing the landscape to benefit his bankroll. This is Arnold before he became an all-purpose bad guy in Frank Capra movies; he's more robust than portly and has more energy than anyone else in the picture. Joel McCrea is again the unsung actor; I'm not sure he was ever even considered for an Oscar. As a responsible son, he provides a quiet alternative to Barney's selfishness. Barney had to make his way in wilder times and doesn't recognize that his son Richard's lack of aggression isn't a bad thing. Any male will immediately identify with this father-son relationship.

For both comedy relief and sentiment there's Walter Brennan's Swan Bostrum as the "yumpin' yimminy" Nordic fool stereotype who turns out to be the nicest character in the story. If one thinks of Brennan in terms of his Rio Bravo days, the actor might be hard to recognize - he's as skinny as a rail. Brennan won an Oscar for this role.

But the irreplaceable component of Come and Get It is Frances Farmer. She positively glows. Jessica Lange did a fine impersonation in the 80s biopic but the real Farmer is softer and projects more vulnerability. Just the same, she's credible as a slow-n-easy saloon diva of the 1880s, singing "Aura Lee" (the original tune for "Love Me Tender") in an impossibly low register. She's much more than the one that got away ... in just a couple of scenes we see her form her life's commitment only to watch helplessly as it crumbles before her eyes. It's heartbreaking.  1

Lotta is a vision in spit-curls, knowing she's the best-looking woman in the state but also aware that she's fatally unlucky. Hawks (I'm assuming) gives her the honor of an extreme up-angle shot singing, the kind of isolated emphasis that always sticks out in his wide shots of held scenes.

Twenty-three years later Farmer is playing her own daughter - younger and less experienced but no fool even though she's been raised in a logging town. After the high spirits of the first section of the film, here's where the ironies and regrets sink in. Barney at first thinks he's seen a ghost and then allows his judgment to slip. He threw his heart away when he married for money and now he thinks that he can get it back again, that he's still the unstoppable force he used to be. The film quickly reveals his interest in young Lotta to be very wrong, practically incestuous. Even his smirking secretary is too intimidated to tell him off, and Barney's only real friend Swan isn't perceptive enough to see what plans he has for Lotta. When she gravitates toward Barney's son Richard, there's going to be trouble.

Come and Get It has a deeply felt sense of nostalgia. In 1936 the 1880s were only as remote as the 1950s are now (incredible) and the hardworking saloon crowds in the beginning with the singing waiters and crooked gambling den are perfectly realized. The women don't appear out of place in their corseted dresses; when young Lotta and her cousin Karie enter a 1907 train car we're just as embarrassed as they are because we aren't immediately aware that they're wearing fashions twenty years out of date.

The separate threads of Come and Get It converge perfectly at the end, with characters that resolve in the only way they can. It's still a fine entertainment, 70 years later.

We get a good look at the ugly-mug John Ford regular Jack Pennick in the early scenes, and it's said that Hank Worden is there as well. This picture seems like an unauthorized cultural backstory for Savant, for my grandfather came to Minnesota from Sweden in 1907. But black audiences are more likely to resent the presentation of Glasgow's black valet, named Snowflake. The actor who played him is listed as Fred 'Snowflake' Toones.

MGM's DVD of Come and Get It is a single title in a crop of Goldwyn classics coming out the same week. I have a copy of the much older DVD release and this transfer and encoding are far superior. The picture is sharp and those closeups of Farmer are to die for; the audio brings out all the sweetness in "Aura Lee" and the fun of the band concert at the big party that concludes the show.

The original trailer stresses action and gives the mistaken impression that the whole show is about cutting down trees. There are no other extras.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Come and Get It rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: March 9, 2005


1. The real-life story of Frances Farmer is even more heartbreaking and her image here becomes all the more intense for it. A quick web-search investigation is recommended for those not already familiar with her story.

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2005 Glenn Erickson

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