What's a mother to do? If she's the seriously rich, eccentric but still
shrewd Mathilda Reed, now in her late seventies or early eighties and
living alone with servants in a huge mid-town Manhattan mansion, and
her untrustworthy nephew attempts to gain control of her fortune by
having her declared incompetent, the answer is simple. She'll call upon
her three sons. The trouble is, she hasn't heard from the grown men in
years. The three came to her as wards. She adopted them and raised
them. But when they were grown, each decided to leave and make his own
way. They didn't want to be a burden or to live off their mother's
fortune. Mathilda Reed (Ann Harding) may be a wonderful old woman, but
her sons are something else.
There's Michael (George Brent), a high-living ne'er-do-well who
finances his expensive tastes by kiting checks and who hopes to marry a
rich woman. His girlfriend, Ann (Joan Blondell), is starting to get
There's Jonathan (Randolph Scott), who went west and now is a broken
down but charming rodeo rider who sometimes has to pawn his saddle.
And there's Mario (George Raft), a fugitive from the law who went to
South America and prospered as a shady nightclub owner. He can't return
to the States without the FBI picking him up.
Mathilda Reed is a fighter. She goes public with a press conference,
hoping her sons, wherever they are, will hear about her need for them.
She hires a private detective to try and locate them. They have to
return by Christmas Eve to block Phillip's plans.
Will the three men make it? Will they even try? Well, of course they
will. So we spend most of our time in three short stories. We watch how
Michael, amusing and unreliable, gets himself under Phillip's thumb
with those bad checks and then starts to get himself out. We watch how
Jonathan, back in New York, finds himself involved in a phony adoption
scam and winds up with three baby girls and a great-looking girlfriend.
We also hear a lot of Hollywood home-on-the-range dialogue...all those
"heifers." We see Mario take on a Nazi fugitive, with fistfights and
gunfights, before he leaves for New York with the FBI right behind him.
And on Christmas Eve, with snow drifting down, with the mansion alight,
with the tree gorgeously decorated and the Christmas punch made,
Mathilda Reed, her nephew and the judge sit waiting. Sure enough, first
Michael and Ann arrive. Then Jonathan and his three babies. And last
comes Mario, with an FBI man right behind. We learn everything is going
to turn out all right, even for Mario. The "crime" he left the States
over was really committed by another. Phillip's scheme is dealt with
and so is Phillip. Most importantly, we learn that the idea of family,
played up with a little sentimentality and a sometimes serious but
often amusing screenplay, can get the job done.
The movie is a little corny at times, especially with Ann Harding,
younger than each of the actors playing her sons, doing the trembling
and wise old lady bit. Her makeup would convince only the oldest
residents of an assisted living center. Raft, Scott and Brent each do
fine jobs. Raft, of course, is Raft, and his story is the most serious.
Scott does a charming turn as the rodeo cowboy who winds up with an
instant family. And George Brent, who was even better as a skilled
farceur and light comedian than he was as an all-purpose leading man
(watch him in 1947's Out of the Blue), is a joy to watch. All three
were at turning points in their careers. This was Scott's last
non-Western movie. Brent was fading fast as a star. Raft was starting
to make a series of poor movies. Still, for me the movie works
emotionally as the story of how three very different men drop whatever
they're doing, for some at great risk, to return to help the woman who
raised them and gave them the values that they have. When the three
start to greet each other with pleasure in their mother's mansion on
Christmas Eve, maybe it's just good acting but they look like they mean