Plot: The Carleton family has great ambition and dreams of wealth, privilege, and luxuries, they just don’t want to work for these lifestyle pleasures. As such, the entire clan works together on elaborate scams and swindles, with the hopes of quick cash and little effort. After one of their plans is discovered just before it would have paid off, the Carletons ramble onto a departing train and soon enough, their next plan starts to reveal itself. The family meets a kind old woman who is even named Fortune (Minnie Dupree) and the idea is to present themselves as hard working, honest folks and befriend her, earning a place in her will. Soon the family is part of the old woman’s life and even working normal jobs, all part of the plan to fleece her. But as time passes and this new approach to life becomes normal and they start to connect with the old woman, will they still have the heart to finish the con?
Entertainment Value: I found The Young in Heart to be a well written, well performed comedy that was able to deliver consistent laughs, as well as hit some effective emotional beats. The humor here is a little screwball at times, but it works and even exposition is handled with a heavy dose of laughs, let alone the scenes where the script really lets the cast shine. The movie centers on a family of con artists, but the sweet tone of the movie ensures they never come off like hardened criminals, just eccentric, misguided folks who just need to find a greater purpose in life. This conflict of going against the only life they’ve known is a big part of the movie, especially for Janet Gaynor’s character, as she feels that missing part of herself. The pace is brisk and as I said, even exposition is given a humorous edge, so this is never a slow or dull production. This is a 1939 movie of course, so it does feel a little dusty at times, but it has immense charm and is much more than an antiquated curio.
This one has a pretty loaded cast and even the supporting roles are able to shine, which really helps the material shine. Janet Gaynor is the movie’s true lead, in a dynamic role that lets her be tough, but also vulnerable. She is able to drive the emotion of the movie with ease, just a terrific performance. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. also has some fun moments here, while Billie Burke, Roland Young, Paulette Goddard, Minnie Dupree, and Richard Carlson are also in prominent roles. But this is just part of the cast, as it is layered with talented folks in smaller roles. As you’d expect from a David O. Selznick picture, this one boasts some impressive production values and has a mostly grand feel, including some nice set piece moments. I loved seeing the Phantom Corsair featured in the movie, here known as the Flying Wombat. I also appreciated the cool miniatures used in some of the train sequences, as well as the unusual, but fun penguin encounter that had so many cute little penguins involved.