Min and Bill (1930) – full review!
Directed by George Hill with scenario and dialogue co-written by the tremendously talented (and not as well known as she should be) Frances Marion (The Champ (1931)) this above average comedy-drama features Marie Dressler’s Oscar winning Best Actress performance. She plays a self sacrificing woman who raises her floozy friend’s daughter as her own protecting her as a mother would a cub while employing a “tough love” style that goes “part and parcel” with the demeanor she’s earned running an Inn on the docks. Paired for the first of many times with Dressler is Wallace Beery playing a sea captain fisherman who doubles as her friend and (we’re led to believe) lover – together they are Min and Bill. Dorothy Jordan plays Nancy Smith the girl Min has raised for Bella Pringle played enthusiastically (and wonderfully credibly) by Marjorie Rambeau.
Min must deal with a truant officer (DeWitt Jennings) as she employs Nancy in her dockside Inn while at the same time she tries to keep Nancy from another seaman Alec Johnson (Russell Hopton) who would like nothing better than to “date” (the virgin) Nancy. So Min puts Nancy in the care of Mr. & Mrs. Southard (Frank McGlynn & Gretta Gould) the school superintendent. She and Bill share an understanding he knows how much Nancy means to Min. However Bill doesn’t know that the experienced woman he’s just met over drinks in the bar is Nancy’s real mother. After catching the two together drinking and playing cards in a room Min is furious. A fight like one you’ve never seen ensues (in fact a snippet of it is featured in Chuck Workman’s marvelous 100 Years at the Movies (1994) short). Seeing Bella again to whom she’d lied about Nancy saying that her daughter had died causes Min to hurriedly and secretly take her “nest egg” all that she’d saved through the years in a sock in her bedroom and give it to the Southards for them to send her abroad for her education.
Two years later Nancy returns from school with plans to marry Dick Cameron (Donald Dillaway) the rich boy from town whom she & Min had earlier taunted when she’d been too ignorant and unattractive (& not attracted) to him. Ironically Bella had been on the same returning ship and had actually been put off by the couple’s “snootiness” towards her having had a man in her cabin (which wasn’t allowed in those days!). Of course the truth will come out – Bella will learn that Nancy is actually her very much alive daughter – forcing Min to take drastic steps to protect her surrogate daughter’s one chance for happiness. The film’s last scene which has Min unable to save herself per the lure of seeing Nancy with Dick on their wedding day must have been on director King Vidor’s mind when he staged the ending of Stella Dallas (1937) with Barbara Stanwyck watching her daughter Anne Shirley.