Classic Film Guide

H.M. Pulham, Esq. (1941)

This terrific little gem of a drama puts forth the idea that we all "settle" in life, for a life (or person) more "stable" or, at least, more comfortable (e.g. per our upbringing). Though we may passionately believe we want that something (or someone) else, for practical reasons (or other circumstances) we'll accept "less". We may even hold onto an old dream, which we've romanticized about to the point that all the negatives are gone and only the positives remain in our memories, such that we believe it can still be made to work ... only to find that the moment has passed, we've changed, and/or the "air is out of the balloon":

Such was the relationship portrayed between the staid title character, played by Robert Young, and a businesswoman, whose character was intentionally given the male name of Marvin, but is played by the decidedly unmasculine Hedy Lamarr. Though Pulham was raised to marry a woman like Kay (Ruth Hussey), whom he eventually does, he spends his early years in the advertising business pursuing co-worker (& artist?) Marvin, who's a bit too "modern" for his conservative family's values. The story is told in flashback, with Pulham examining his life while writing his Harvard class biography. Coincidentally, he's just gotten a call from Marvin, who's also married and just wants to meet for drinks after all these years.

Produced and directed by King Vidor (who co-wrote the screenplay, based on the John Marquand novel with his wife Elizabeth Hill, The Citadel (1938)), the cast is excellent and includes Charles Coburn as Young's father, Van Heflin as his longtime friend, classmate & business associate, Fay Holden as his mother, Bonita Granville as his sister, Douglas Wood as his boss, and Sara Haden as his secretary. Charles Halton plays a client of the ad agency, Leif Erickson a football playing friend of Pulham’s, and Anne Revere (uncredited) his father's secretary. Frank Faylen, Byron Foulger, Ava Gardner (her second film), Connie Gilchrist, and Grant Withers also appear uncredited.

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