Cagney and Stanwyck On Low-Watt Setting
Metro Youth Exploitation Minus The Youth: These Wilder Years (1956)
Tycoon James Cagney wants to locate the son he sired, then abandoned, twenty years before, Barbara Stanwyck's adoption agent determined to prevent his making the connect. There's a wayward teen girl, also with child, to rouse responsibility in button-down Jim, this role a distinct depart from shouts to hoarseness his lot in just-previous two, Mister Roberts and Love Me Or Leave Me. Emotional content plays well thanks to Cagney/Stanwyck parlay --- they skip romance to salvage kids in trouble, infant and otherwise. MGM sold this as exploitation, pushing hard the underage preggers theme, that maybe a reason why adults stayed home with TV to Loews loss of $629K. MGM tanked on so many in '56 as to make just showing up an effort.
Sets and backgrounds here are drabber than anthology on free-vee, the home town Cagney returns to like some faceless berg on a later Twilight Zone (in fact, the same backlot was utilized for both). For all we see of Jim's character reaction, it's as though he's never seen the place before. What saves These Wilder Years is performance: great acting against bare walls. Halfway-in Walter Pidgeon shows up to high-power represent Cagney in court, and the two share three lengthy bar-booth conversations, each a primer aspirants might consult for masterful playing. Sentiment builds steady to mature pay-off as lessons are hard-learned and reconciliations effected, Cagney et al doing much with content that might have sunk like stone in less capable hands. Warner Archive has released These Wilder Years on gratifying 1.85 with quality their usual fine.