Great Mr. Nobody The (1941)
Directed by Benjamin Stoloff this unexpected gem features Eddie Albert in the title role. Known best for his supporting roles and later nominated for two Oscars (Roman Holiday (1953) & The Heartbreak Kid (1972)) Albert is the lead in this one which features several other career supporting actors who somehow were never recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences: Alan Hale John Litel Charles Trowbridge Paul Hurst John Ridgely Douglas Kennedy Billy Benedict and even Joe Devlin & Charles Halton who appear uncredited. Of course many also remember Albert for his numerous TV personas not the least of which was Oliver Douglas on Green Acres. After seeing this film however you’ll likely not forget his humble endearing “Dreamy” character nor the film itself. One is reminded of James Stewart’s “George Bailey” character but only in the sense that one man could touch so many lives through his selfless choices. Unlike It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) though this film has no fantasy sequence nor does the protagonist ever come to regret his choices preferring instead to remain anonymous for his sacrifices and expecting nothing else out of life except an opportunity to serve his fellow man.
Robert Smith (Albert) called Dreamy by his encouraging supporting co-worker & girlfriend Mary (Joan Leslie) works in the classified ads department of one of the three competing newspapers in the city. He dreams of sailing away with his friend “Skipper” Martin (Hale) with whom he’s saved just enough to do it. He gives his resignation letter and the news to Mary who’s disappointed but puts it on his boss John Wade’s desk anyway. Smith picks up his friend in his dilapidated automobile which they’ve valued at $150 the last of what they need to finally own the Viking the boat they’ve mortgaged. He takes the Skipper by his soon-to-former place of employment where Martin can’t wait to tell off his cranky old soon-to-be ex-boss (Halton). Unfortunately however Smith forgets to set the parking break and the two witness the car rolling off the dock and into the harbor. Since they can now no longer afford to quit the Skipper has to swallow his pride and take yet another tongue lashing insult from his current taskmaster while Smith rushes on foot to reclaim his resignation letter.
On his way into the newspaper offices building Smith runs into and briefly greets “Limpy” Barnes (Dickie Moore) a disabled boy who sells papers outside its entrance. Upon learning from Mary that she’d put his letter on Wade’s desk he rushes into the office to interrupt his boss (Litel) who’d been having a drink of whiskey just in time to retrieve the letter. We learn that Smith isn’t thought of very highly by his boss even though Dreamy thinks Wade a former Major in the armed services is “tops”. Mary is happy that Dreamy isn’t going anywhere too soon and the two go out on a date that evening. Their plans to go to a movie are interrupted when they witness a fire. When Smith sees a fire fighter who’d already rescued several children fall down he rushes into the burning building to save him. However it’s the fireman who carries the overcome Smith out and places him on the sidewalk.
The next day at the newspaper offices a box is installed into which the employees are encouraged to submit circulation generation ideas for a possible (financial) bonus. Looking at the headlines of the paper in front of him Smith (who gave the story to reporter Ridgely) comes up with an idea to recognize heroes like the fireman O’Connor (Hurst) by giving them an award. Meanwhile a new young attractive executive William Amesworth (William Lundigan) who happens to be a descendant from the paper’s founder is introduced around the offices by Grover Dillon (Trowbridge). He is instantly attracted to Mary who works on the phone bank which receives the classified ads. When Wade reads Smith’s idea he adopts it as his own telling Amesworth who’s naturally impressed. Wade then tells Smith that someone else had submitted the very same idea earlier then gives his employee apparently the only “pat on the back” he ever has. While this seems to satisfy Dreamy just fine Mary is upset that he’s not willing to fight for his due credit. This happens twice more in the film. When Amesworth shows a public interest in Mary Smith seems to finally recognize what he’s got and against the advice of the Skipper who thinks all women are trouble pledges his love to Mary.
Another day Smith sees a man take a paper from Limpy’s stack without paying and stops him. There’s a brief scuffle and Smith’s hat falls into the street. When Limpy goes to retrieve it he’s hit by a car. Smith makes sure Limpy is taken care of eventually giving his apartment to Limpy and his family when without his income while he recovered they are evicted. This is the last straw for Skipper who had tolerated delays in their sailing plans due to Smith’s generosity which prevented them from ever getting over the hump on what they owed on their boat. So the Skipper leaves in a huff and rues the day he ever made plans with Smith. Meanwhile Smith tells Mary she is better off without him that he can’t afford to take her out anymore. Though he doesn’t tell her why it’s because he’s selling everything he owns (including his car to Devlin) to support Limpy’s family and even pay for an operation to “cure” his limp.
Smith’s selflessness continues until he crosses the line by helping the fired office boy (Benedict) get a new job from a yet to be printed want ad though Smith makes sure the salesman (Kennedy) gets his commission by paying it out of his own pocket. This eventually leads to Wade firing Smith. But never fear with help from Mary and the Skipper & O’Connor (sort of) a happy ending if not tearjerking like Frank Capra’s film is in order. In fact the very end of the film is perfect for our Dreamy given his character.