theatrical release poster
|Directed by||William A. Wellman|
|Produced by||Jack L. Warner|
|Written by||J. Grubb Alexander
|Based on||novel by Edna Ferber|
|Music by||W. Franke Harling|
|Editing by||William Holmes|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Release date(s)||April 30, 1932 (US)|
|Running time||81 minutes|
So Big! is a 1932 American drama film directed by William A. Wellman and starring Barbara Stanwyck. The screenplay by [J. Grubb Alexander]] and Robert Lord is based on the 1924 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same title by Edna Ferber.
The film is the third screen adaptation of the Ferber novel, following So Big a 1924 silent version directed by Charles Brabinand starring Colleen Moore. It was remade as a short in 1930, with Helen Jerome Eddy. A 1953 remake was directed by Robert Wise and starring Jane Wyman. In 1939 Barbara Stanwyck would reprise her role as Selina Peak De Jong for a radio broadcast.
Following the death of her mother, Selina Peake (Barbara Stanwyck) and her father (Robert Warwick) move to Chicago, where she enrolls in finishing school. Her father is killed, leaving her penniless, and Selina's friend Julie Hemple (Mae Madison) helps her find a job as a schoolteacher in a small Dutch community. Selina moves in with the Poole family and tutors their son Roelf (George Brent). Selina eventually marries immigrant farmer Pervus De Jong (Earle Foxe) and gives birth to Dirk (Hardie Albright), nicknamed "So Big", who becomes the primary focus of her life. When Pervus dies, Selina struggles to keep the farm afloat so she can afford to finance her son's education, hoping he will become an architect.
Dirk becomes involved with a married woman, who arranges for him to get a job as a bond salesman in her husband's firm, making much more money than as an apprentice architect. Eventually he meets and falls in love with unconventional artist Dallas O'Mara (Bette Davis), but she refuses to marry him because of his lack of ambition. Roelf, now a renowned sculptor, meets Dirk and, learning Selina is his mother, reunites with his former tutor. She is pleased to know her influence helped mold Roelf's character, even as she accepts her own son's weaknesses and disappointments.
Bette Davis, cast in the relatively small role of Dallas O'Mara, filmed So Big! simultaneously with The Rich Are Always with Us. Following The Man Who Played God, it was her second film for Warner Bros., and the first in which she appeared with George Brent, who co-starred with her in eleven more films. Davis considered her casting in a prestigious Barbara Stanwyck project a sign Jack L. Warner was acknowledging her value to the studio. In her 1962 autobiography A Lonely Life, she recalled, "It was a source of tremendous satisfaction, and encouraged me to unheard-of dreams of glory.".
Andre Sennwald of the New York Times called the film "a faithful and methodical treatment of Miss Ferber's novel, but without fire or drama or the vitality of the original." He added, "A fine actress, Miss Stanwyck seems ill-suited to a role that hustles her in jerky steps from girlhood to old age; a role in which she is asked to express rugged grandeur and the beauty of a life well-lived from behind a mask of grease paint . . . Little Dickie Moore is delightful as the younger So Big. Bette Davis . . . is unusually competent.".
Variety noted, ""Wellman's endeavor at kaleidoscopic flashes in the life of Selina Dejong . . . make for a choppy continuity . . . As it is, the 83 minutes are overly long, but in toto, it's a disjointed affair."
The New Yorker considered Barbara Stanwyck's performance "the best work she has yet shown us", while the New York Daily Mirror called her "exquisite" and added, "Her great talent as an actress never has been demonstrated more brilliantly. A sparkling performance. She is magnificent.".
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