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'It All Came True': Sentimentality with Sass

It All Came True doesn't fit any particular category of movie, and as a result you hardly know what's going to happen as one thing leads to another in a finely balanced mix of comic, melodramatic and sentimental tones leading up to the big show.


It All Came True

Director: Lewis Seiler
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan
Distributor: Warner Archives
Rated: Not rated
Year: 1940
US release date: 2012-02-23

Two old ladies own a boarding house populated by other pensioners like themselves, a somewhat dotty crew of faded dreamers who look with fear and hopefulness upon the world that's passed them by. One spinster (the great Zasu Pitts of fluttery hands and quavery voice) convinces herself that mashers follow her through the streets, and she can't wait to tell everybody how frightened she feels by the attention. A stiffly proud old magician (Felix Bressart), attended only by his dog, will have his feelings hurt at any slight in the respect he deserves. One man (Grant Mitchell) can be persuaded to recite his wretched poetry, while another (Brandon Tynan), with a touch of dementia, lives in the past and forgets that the lady who owned the house no longer lives. It now belongs to the other two women, one a dreamer (Jessie Busley) and the other a carping Irish housekeeper (the great sharp-nosed Una O'Connor) who must deal with reality as best she can. They owe back taxes and the bank is about to foreclose.

Suddenly, the dreamer's son Tommy (Jeffrey Lynn) and the housekeeper's sassy daughter Sarah Jane (Ann Sheridan, a pistol but "a good girl" and not "a hussy") come home after not having made any great success in their different paths to show biz. Tommy brings his boss, gangster Chips Morgan (Humphrey Bogart), who's blackmailing Tommy into hiding him in the boarding house after a murder. As unlikely as it seems, the stir-crazy Chips, putting the make on Mary Ann, takes it into his head to turn the joint into an old-fashioned nightclub called the Roaring 90s (there must be no zoning issues), and they put on an elaborate floor show that looks like they could never make their money back.

It All Came True doesn't fit any particular category of movie, and as a result you hardly know what's going to happen as one thing leads to another in a finely balanced mix of comic, melodramatic and sentimental tones leading up to the big show. Aside from sheer professionalism, its finest Hollywood trick is honest sentimentality. Because of character and story, along with restraint and balance in both comedy and drama, it builds to an ending where we care what will happen. It refrains from pulling at the pathos of the situation, or from turning the boarders into cardboard madcaps with no feelings to hurt, or from hammering on the romance of Tommy and Mary Ann, and it even attempts to hint at the human being locked and lost inside of Chips. "Are you an orphan?" asks one of the mother hens, because she notices how he reacts whenever she tries to help him.

Bestselling writer Louis Bromfield gets an authorial credit above the title because he wrote the original story, which I'm ready to assume Michael Fessier and Lawrence Kemble's script doesn't necessarily resemble. The film's true auteur is less likely to be workmanlike director Lewis Seiler than producer Mark Hellinger, who made his reputation as a columnist with a love for New York characters and who produced several important films in Bogart's development at Warner Brothers.

It All Came True might have been called Not Bloody Likely, but its point is to trade on the concept of the miraculous fairy tale implied in the title. It's far-fetched and sentimental corn, naturally, but that's nothing bad when done well. In fact, it's what we buy our tickets for. When you really think about it, if this movie has any message, it's that work and money and talent and compassion and faith in people's decency can make the world better--and isn't it so?

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