Based on a play by Vina Delmar, director Robert Z. Leonard's Cynthia (1947) is one of those maudlin exercises in homespun family conflict that only a studio like MGM could pull of convincingly throughout the 1930s and 40s. The film is a showcase for Elizabeth Taylor, then a child star on the cusp of becoming a smoldering teen sensation. And although Taylor is undeniably drop dead gorgeous throughout the film she really is under-served in this little nothing of a plot concocted by Harold Buchman, Charles Kaufman and Delmar.
The story opens in the 1920s before Cynthia is even born. Her parents, Louise (Mary Astor) and Larry Bishop (George Murphy) are attending the local college with dreams of becoming a researcher and doctor in Vienna respectively. However, after they share a moonlight boat ride on a lake in their home town of Napoleon the two decide to get married. Louise becomes pregnant with Cynthia and their dreams are dashed to make a home for the new baby. Louise becomes a common frump and Larry goes to work at the local hardware store.
Cynthia is a sickly child and the medical expenses alone cripple Larry's ability to do little more than keep the family's heads above water. Larry's older sister Carrie (Spring Byington) has married Dr.Fred Jannings (Gene Lockhart), a pompous practitioner who seems intent on keeping Cynthia dependent on his B12 injections. Fred has convinced Larry that Cynthia must not partake in local school activities or face becoming even more ill.
In fact, Cynthia longs to join the other kids at play, most notably returning 'war hero' Ricky Latham (Jimmy Lydon) who has developed a crush on her much to the chagrin of Fred's daughter Fredonia (Carol Brannan) who would like Ricky for herself. Although Fredonia is insanely jealous of Cynthia, Cynthia does not harbor similar feelings toward her or even despise Fredonia for her unwarranted meddling in her affairs.
Larry and Louise attend their weekly dinner at Carrie and Fred's house where Larry proposes that Fred co-sign to approve a bank loan that will allow him to buy the house they are renting. Instead, Fred, who has more money than he knows what to do with, informs Larry that he has his own family to consider and refuses to sign his papers, hinting that Larry is a risk and may default on his payments.
In the meantime, Larry's boss J.M. Dingle (Harlan Briggs) is attempting to keep his most valuable employee dependent on his modest earnings for the rest of his days. Louise confides in Larry that she is disappointed at how their lives turned out. She is tired of beholding to Fred for advice on how Cynthia should be raised. Louise's one source of pride is their daughter. Larry is wounded by the insinuation that his wife is ashamed of him and their marriage temporarily suffers from hurt feelings.
Meanwhile, the school's musical director, Professor Rosenkrantz (S.Z. Sakall) dotes on Cynthia and has big plans for her to star in his Spring play. Unfortunately, Cynthia contracts the flu while trying to impress Ricky. She is forced by illness to withdraw from rehearsals. Still not contented to have her cousin out of the play, Fredonia plots to drive a wedge between Cynthia and Ricky. Her attempts are feeble at best and quite unsuccessful.
Larry forbids Cynthia to go to the Spring dance with Ricky. But after Louise convinces Larry to attend a local political meeting she sneaks her daughter out to have her moment of fun. Cynthia's coming out is a huge success. Larry confronts his boss, quits his job and plans to take Louise and Cynthia away to wherever their heart's desire might be. But Louise has had a change of heart. She buys the house with money she has saved since their marriage for a rainy day. Cynthia informs her father that she and Ricky are betrothed. She cannot leave Napoleon either. But all is not lost. Mr. Dingle arrives on their doorstep to beg Larry to reconsider working for him.
Cynthia is just the sort of 'slice of fictionalized Americana MGM's chief Louis B. Mayer adored. It's full of idyllic snapshots that suggest an America not to be found anywhere except the studio back lot. The hand-me-downs for this film are glaringly obvious. The streets where the Bishops live are well-trodden territory for Andy Hardy and The Smith family. There's even a moment when Fredonia belts out a badly off key rendition of 'The Trolley Song' from Meet Me In St. Louis as part of her audition for the Spring play.
Taylor would later wax rather condescendingly about her own lack of musical ability. She sings 'Voices of Spring' in Cynthia. Although the voice is thin, Taylor nevertheless hits all her notes with great accuracy - even the impossibly high ones, and fairly impresses. If, obviously not a singer on par with Kathryn Grayson or Jane Powell, she can certainly hold her own in this little bit of homespun nonsense. There's really not much else to say about the film except that it is a B programmer with A-list production values and a few quaint highlights scattered along the way.
Cynthia is a Warner Archive release. The MOD DVD exhibits a rather softly focused image that is rather disappointing. The gray scale's contrast levels appear a tad weaker than expected. Occasionally the image looks worn and faded. Age related artifacts are present but not glaringly so. Overall, this is just a middle of the road visual presentation of a middle of the road film. The audio is mono as originally recorded. It's adequately represented although during Taylor's song it crackles slightly. Like all other titles in the Archive Collection there are NO extras features, just a theatrical trailer.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)