In Richard Wallace’s The Young in Heart (1938), Miss Ellen Fortune (Minnie Dupree) is a painfully lonely elderly woman traveling across Europe by train. On her journey she encounters the Carleton family; no-nonsense George-Anne (Janet Gaynor), silky Richard (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), playfully devious Col. Anthony (Roland Young) and society scatterbrain Marmy (Billie Burke); a rambunctious pack of congenial connivers.
Deposed from their suite at the Ritz on the Riviera, the moochers decide that Ellen Fortune is just the sort of wealthy fop who is ripe for their picking. Ellen, however, is not so easily cajoled out of her life savings. Meanwhile, George-Anne has other reasons for wanting to get out of town. Recently, her beloved, Duncan Macrae (Richard Carlson) has proposed marriage. Although George-Anne loves Duncan, her affections are blindsided by a more immediate greed for material things. Forced to regroup, the Carletons find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Before they get their way they’re going to have to work for it!
Ellen moves the Carletons into her Gothic estate, much to the chagrin of Ellen's financial adviser, Felix Anstruther (Henry Stephenson) who decides to have them investigated while attending to business for Ellen in France. Although the Colonel and Marmy consider their relocation temporary, George-Anne encourages a more permanent arrangement almost from the start, presumably plotting to bilk the old lady out of her money. Secretly, however, she hopes that Ellen's goodness will rub off on the family. Indeed, as time wears on the family begin to change for the better.
Duncan orchestrates an interview for Col. Anthony at a local auto retailer, selling Flying Wombats (an ultra-sleek roadster). Richard decides to take a lowly mail room job after meeting hard working stenographer, Leslie Saunders (Paulette Goddard). Gradually, the two become better acquainted and fall in love.
Despite their greedy ambitions, the connivers realize that they have been seduced by Ellen's unpretentious kindness with the result being that their collective hearts have warmed to the inherent goodness of their gracious benefactress. Fearing the worst, Felix returns from France with a scathing report on the Carletons. Although Ellen believes what Felix tells her, she absolutely refuses to think ill of her guests. When Ellen suddenly falls ill the Carletons rally to her side, only to be told by Felix that the old lady's fortunes have been wiped out in a horrendous mismanagement of funds.
The Colonel dutifully informs Felix that Ellen will never want for anything. Instead she will come to live with him and Marmy in their new cottage. Richard and Leslie become engaged and George-Anne and Duncan are married.
The Young In Heart is a curious anomaly in Selznick's canon. Previously, the producer had delighted audiences with his take on the hoi polloi and scheming pretenders in MGM's Dinner at Eight (1933). But it had been nearly 5 years since he had found a reason to explore this theme similarly in another film. Indeed, by the time The Young in Heart went into production it was hardly as blindingly all-star as Selznick's MGM offering. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was not a star of the first magnitude as say Clark Gable or Gary Cooper. Yet, he headlines the cast.
It had been three years since Paulette Goddard wowed audiences in Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times - a minor eternity as far as fans are concerned. But Janet Gaynor's smashing success in A Star Is Born (1937) was still fresh in the public's mind, and made her a rather obvious choice for the female lead in this movie.
Paul Osborn, Charles Bennett and I.A.R. Wylie's screenplay extols the ‘money can’t buy you happiness' theme without it ever becoming heavy handed or dull. The story is peppered in just the right amount of sensitivity and humor to prevail with heart-warming results. After an unfavorable preview, The Young at Heart had its original downtrodden ending revamped. As initially scripted Ellen died and the Carleton's disbanded to pursue their own lives and careers. In the rewrite the sense of enduring family ties remains intact. The Young in Heart was nominated for two minor Academy Awards; Best Song/Score and Cinematography. It won neither.
MGM’s DVD is satisfying though hardly exceptional. The B&W picture exhibits a very nicely balanced gray scale with smooth, solid blacks and very clean whites. Age related artifacts are present but do not distract. Some minor edge enhancement crops up. Overall the picture is smooth if unremarkable. The audio is mono. There are no extras.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)