Cast: Marie Dressler, Jean Hersholt, Myrna Loy, Richard Cromwell
Director: Clarence Brown
When their mother dies in childbirth, the Smith children turn to their nanny Emma (Dressler). As they grow up, Dressler loves them as though they were her own. She has a special bond with Ronnie (Cromwell), who never knew his mother, though Isabelle (Loy) is stuck up and insists on treating Emma as little more than a servant. As the children grow older, their father Frederick (Hersholt) and Emma being to feel lonely and end up marrying each other. On their honeymoon, Frederick dies, and leaves everything in his will to Emma so she can properly provide for the children. Isabelle refuses to believe her father would leave her nothing, and tries to prove that Emma killed her father.
Marie Dressler was definitely one of the more interesting stars of the 1930s. While she’d had some success in silent film, she had pretty much disappeared from the radar until Anna Christie in 1930. She won the Best Actress Oscar for Min and Bill, and was nominated again for Emma. While not at all the type of beautiful star so many people adored, Dressler was one of the top box office stars of her time. She was certainly one of the most talented and dynamic actresses. In Emma, she’s extremely sympathetic, and gives one hell of a performance. It’s hard to believe a woman would be able to love “her” children after the way Isabelle treats her, but there’s never a doubt that Dressler means every word she says when she refuses to allow the lawyers to talk about the kids the way the do, even if it means she’ll be found guilty of murder.
Loy is also interesting in this film. Before her breakout year of 1934, she was often cast as villainous characters, and that’s pretty much what she is here. She’s stuck up, self centered, selfish, and vindictive. And so completely easy to hate. She really does give a very good performance that’s completely against the type she would soon come to play.
The film does lose a bit of steam in the middle. While the murder trial is indeed interesting, I was much more enthralled by the relationship/romance between Emma and Frederick. There was a lot of genuine emotion and affection in this love story between two older people, and that made the first half of the films a lot more interesting than the second half. A romance like this is so rare to find in film, especially classic film. I really would have loved an entire film just about Emma and Frederick’s marriage.