Sins of the Children (1930)
One has to wonder whether Frank Capra saw this above average sentimental drama and was influenced by it since scenes (& themes) from two of his films the Academy Award winning Best Picture You Can’t Take it With You (1938) and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) are evident in this one which was produced & directed by Sam Wood. Elliott Nugent who with his father J. C. wrote the story Father’s Day on which this film is based not only wrote dialogue and acted in it but went on to direct several movies on his own (his debut was co-directing John Barrymore in The Mouthpiece (1932)). Louis Mann stars as a father who loves his family more than money and sacrifices everything for their sake. For their part his children let him down though he refuses to acknowledge this fact and instead considers himself “The Richest Man in the World” (the film’s alternate title). Besides Nugent Robert Montgomery Leila Hyams Clara Blandick Mary Doran Ralph Bushman Robert McWade and Henry Armetta also play significant roles.
Barbershop owner Adolf Wagenkampf (Mann) and his wife Martha (Blandick) have three sons and two daughters; their first priority is raising them right. He proves it when on the verge of investing his life savings ($3000) with partner Joe Higginson (McWade) to open their growing town’s first Building & Loan he instead follows his doctor’s (Lee Kohlmar) advice to send his ailing son Ludwig away to a dry climate for 2 years. Higginson whose troublemaker son Nick heckles Adolf’s youngest daughter Alma thinks Wagenkampf’s being a fool. Police officer Ted (Dell Henderson) who was Adolf’s first customer and was to be his last feels bad for Adolf as fellow barber Tony (Armetta) looks on.
Twenty years later Adolf can’t contain his excitement that Ludwig is returning home from medical school as a doctor himself that very day. He plans an elaborate coming home party and even rents a limousine in which he Martha and son Johann (Nugent) can pick him up. They are all surprised and naturally disappointed that Ludwig (Bushman) has made other plans – to ride home with Muriel Stokes (Jeane Wood) instead. Meanwhile Nick (Montgomery) who’s still a roustabout calls on a grownup Alma (Hyams) whom he’s been secretly dating. Nick’s father Joe is the wealthiest man in town as sole owner of the town’s highly successful building & loan.
Later that evening the entire Wagenkampf clan converges on the family home for Ludwig’s party including their daughter Kathy (Jane Reid) her obnoxious husband Bide (James Donlan) and their three children. Ludwig sits at the head of the table but has to admit that he’s Americanized his name to Lawrence Warren on his diploma. This hurts his father’s feelings but not as much as when officer Ted arrives to arrest Johann who now goes by Johnnie. Johnnie who’d been a collector was convinced by Nick to “borrow” company funds to bet on a racehorse which lost. Adolf Ted and Johnnie then go to Johnnie’s boss to smooth things over; Adolf has to pay the tab and insists that no one tell Martha or the others.
In order to help Lawrence start his practice Adolf borrows $2000 against his mortgage from Joe Higginson. Upon giving it to his son Adolf is again surprised that Lawrence has married Muriel. Times are tough for Adolf at the barbershop and with the mortgage bill due Tony refuses his longtime friend & employer’s request to work elsewhere for pay. Instead he convinces Adolf to hire an ambitious and pretty manicurist named Laura (Doran). Unable to find work (in Harristown … Harrisburg?) wannabe inventor Johnnie decides to leave for Pittsburgh where his embezzlement is not known by everyone. He’d grown attached to Laura somewhat of a worldly woman herself who’d fallen for his naiveté; unbeknownst to him she slips him train fare. After questioning Lawrence’s receptionist about his son’s growing practice Adolf reluctantly asks Lawrence for financial help to resolve his debt. His wife Muriel intercepts the conversation and directs her father-in-law elsewhere saying that Lawrence is on the verge of success and can’t afford to help.
Meanwhile Nick has impregnated Alma a fact she reveals to her father when he catches her returning after 4 AM one night. Adolf goes to Higginson not to discuss his defaulted loan as the banker assumes but their “kids’” relationship. Higginson tells Adolf that Nick will not marry Alma who’s below his class and goes on to call his former friend a loser. Adolf goes into a tirade saying that success is not about money but about love. That he Adolf is therefore richer than Higginson whose son fears him in lieu of loving him. Adolf then begins to leave and is joined by Nick who embraces and then departs with him.
*** SPOILERS ***
It’s Christmas Eve and Adolf’s barbershop is being dismantled and sold piecemeal by those that foreclosed on him. Adolf returns home where he greets Martha at the fireplace and gives her a lace handkerchief as a gift. They kiss and she goes to bed. Much to his surprise and delight Johnnie arrives home for the holiday. Better still Johnnie gives Adolf his paid off mortgage and some cash to boot saying that his shaving pump invention worked and that he’d made his father 50% owner of the thriving business. While a grateful tearful Adolf goes upstairs to tell Martha Johnnie opens the front door so that the entire Wagenkampf clan (and the Taylors & the Warrens) can enter. With Christmas tree and gifts in hand the family fills the dining room and enthusiastically greets Martha and Adolf when they return downstairs. A turkey dinner is brought in and everyone celebrates including Alma with Nick and Johnnie with Laura.