Sunday, September 13, 2009

Now and Forever (1934)

Jerry Day: "Toni, we're rich."
Toni Day: "Again? That's nice."

Order: 4
Year: 1934
Rated: NR
Runtime: 1 hour, 22 minutes

Gary Cooper as Jerry Day
Carole Lombard as Toni Day
Shirley Temple as Penny Day
Guy Standing as Felix Evans

Plot: A con artist originally intends to blackmail his brother-in-law into paying $75,000 for the custody of his daughter, but changes his mind after he gets to know her.

Now and Forever didn't end the way I expected it to. After years of viewing Shirley's movies, I was fairly certain I knew the formula inside out: cute singing orphan + dysfunctional couple = happy family and schmaltzy ending. But I was wrong. Dear readers, I must announce that Now and Forever has a bittersweet ending instead of the usual sugary sweet kind.

From the get go, things are little bit darker than usual. Jerry and Toni Day are a couple that flit all over the world and con their way into free food and lodging. But after three years of this life, Toni is growing restless and isn't sure that chasing trains (the most overused phrase in the film) is the way she wants to spend her golden years. Luckily at this time, Jerry receives word about his six year old daughter from his first marriage. His first wife's (she's dead, of course) brother wants to adopt little Penny Day, and the reckless Jerry is all for long as he gets money out of it. This pretty much tears it for Toni and she heads to Paris to clear her head.

Jerry travels to his brother-in-law's home, fully intending to hand over custody for a steep 75 grand. While bargaining, he meets his daughter, probably for the first time since her birth and finds her to be a charming little creature and decides to keep her. What ensues afterwards is typical single father fair. He only feeds her hot dogs and ice cream and spoils her rotten. After struggling for a few weeks, Toni returns from Paris and finds herself in the surprising position of stepmother.

One thing about Now and Forever (and Little Miss Marker, for that matter) is that they are much slower paced than the Fox films. It seems as though Penny has been with Jerry for six months before things start going sour. An old rich widow is captivated by Penny and thinks that Jerry is an unfit father and offers to take Penny off his hands when he grows tired of her. And much to this film fan's surprise, he does, despite his denial.

Towards the end of the movie, Jerry steals one of the widow's gaudy emerald necklaces and hides it in Penny's Teddy bear. After Penny learns the truth, Toni takes the blame so Penny can keep a positive view of her father. Jerry, sickened with himself, gets the necklace back, returns it to its owner and tells the widow that she take Penny and raise her as a proper young lady, but not before he gets shot in a fight for the necklace. In the last scene of the movie, Jerry waves good-bye to his daughter while she in unaware that he's given her up. He then falls to his death, after neglecting his gunshot wound.

It was the very beginning of Shirley Temple's reign, and the formula had not yet been perfected. As unsatisfying as Now and Forever is, I give it props for ending the way it did. Penny did end up with the right person. Still, it does seem like kind of a cop out. It's much more satisfying to have her work her magic on the crooked and negligent and whip them into decent parents ala Little Miss Marker. However, Now and Forever unwittingly teaches an important lesson that some people are not meant to be parents and they should be willing to let their children have a better life, if the opportunity is available. Personal opinions on parenting aside, Now and Forever takes an interesting and anti-climactic place at the beginning of the Shirley Temple canon, and truly, it would not fit well anywhere else.

Featured Songs
"The World Owes Me a Living" - Shirley Temple

No comments: