The Young in Heart (1938)

David O. Selznick pops up some imitation Capra-corn

MGM super-producer David O. Selznick was responsible for such acknowledged American classics as Dinner at Eight (1933), David Copperfield  (1935), The Prisoner of Zenda (1937), A Star Is Born (1937), Nothing Sacred (1937), Gone with the Wind (1939), Rebecca (1940), Duel in the Sun (1946), Portrait of Jennie (1948), and The Third Man (1949).  Consequently, it is a little odd that a forgotten, little romantic comedy from Selznick’s resume, The Young at Heart (1938), would receive a high definition Blu-ray upgrade before the first three titles I previously listed.  Still, while surprising, it is not an unwelcome turn of events, because The Young at Heart is a very enjoyable light entertainment that deserves to be better remembered.

Roland “Topper” Young, Billie “Glenda, the Good Witch” Burke, Janet Gaynor, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. star as the Carletons, a family of high society con artists who are sent packing to London when their latest scheme on the French Rivera goes awry.  Along the way, they sponge off a rich, lonely, old lady with the unfortunate moniker of Miss Fortune (Minnie Dupree) and end up saving the old girl’s life during the derailment of a train on which they are all traveling.  Consequently, Miss Fortune invites the entire self-serving clan to keep her company on her estate.  The youngest of the Carletons (Gaynor) gets the idea that they might be able to worm their way into Miss Fortune’s will if they pretend to be decent, hard-working people.  To make the con work, the pater (Young) and his son (Fairbanks) are forced to find employment.  Horrors!  However, in trying to bilk Miss Fortune into believing that they are upstanding citizens, decency starts to rub off.  Double horrors!

The Young in Heart is a light comedy in the Frank Capra mode, mixing humor with sentiment.  It may be imitation Capra-corn, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good.  It is the type of film that garners more smiles than belly laughs (screwball this ain’t), but it is a breezy 90 minutes enacted by a bunch of expert character actors at the top of their game.

The production values are also top notch.  In the hands of David “Gone With the Wind” O. Selznick, even a small story such as this one is painted in big strokes with the highest gloss imaginable.  Everything is big — the cast, the sets, the cars, the emotions…  And the train derailment, which is a very small plot point, is staged as Hitchcockian high drama, utilizing some very effective special effects.

If the story and the set dressings don’t grab you, The Young in Heart still holds a number of elements of interest.  First, the film introduced audiences to two actors that would have long and successful film careers, Paulette Goddard and Richard Carlson, who play the love interests of Fairbanks and Gaynor.  Carlson was fresh off the stage, but it wasn’t the true screen introduction for Goddard, who had been featured in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936).  However, the Selznick production provided Chaplin’s leading lady with her first speaking role (being that Modern Times was a rare sound-era silent film).  Both actors are immediately engaging and make snappy work of the dialogue they are handed.  Goddard has less to do than Carlson in the film, but she makes just as big an impression.  It is no wonder she was second in the running to play Scarlett O’Hara.

Even of more interest to me, was the introduction of a very unexpected key player in the film, the 1938 Phantom Corsair.  The Corsair was an enormous, jet black concept car, designed with a futuristic-looking low profile, which never made it into actual production.  In the movie, the weird vehicle is renamed “The Flying Wombat,” and Roland Young’s character ends up stumbling into success by taking a job as a salesman for this showroom automobile.  Although I am not what anyone would call a “car guy,” I found myself fascinated every time the Wombat/Corsair made an appearance.  Most of those sequences can be seen in the video above.

While not a comedy for the ages, The Young at Heart is a very enjoyable little movie that will likely charm anyone who decides to give it a try.  Thanks to Kino Lorber Studio Classics, a new generation can freshly discover this forgotten gem.


USA/B&W-90m./Dir: Richard Wallace/Wr: Paul Osborn and Charles Bennett (from a novel by I.A.R. Wylie)/Cast: Janet Gaynor, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Roland Young, Billie Burke, Minnie Dupree, Richard Carlson, Paulette Goddard, Henry Stephenson

If You Like: If you are a fan of Frank Capra’s sentimental comedies, such as Lady For a Day (1933) or Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), this should be right up your alley.

Video: Kino Lorber Studio Classics has released The Young in Heart [Blu-ray] as a bare-bones disc, apart from a handful of classic movie trailers.  However, the feature itself is presented in a very pleasing film-like transfer, and it is a pleasant surprise that this fairly obscure title received a high definition upgrade at all.

Streaming: Currently, The Young in Heart can be streamed on YouTube, but in much lower quality.

More to Explore: I’d suggest following this up with the Selznick-produced comedy classic Nothing Sacred (1937).

Trivia: Rust Heinz, the designer of the 1938 Phantom Corsair, died shortly after the first cars were completed, ending plans for a limited production of the automobile at an estimated selling price of $12,500 ($214,000 in today’s dollars).

For More Info: Consult the detailed biography Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick by David Thompson.

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