On Borrowed Time

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On Borrowed Time
OnBorrowedTime'39.jpg
Directed by Harold S. Bucquet
Produced by Sidney Franklin
Written by Alice D.G. Miller
Frank O'Neill
Paul Osborn (play)
Lawrence Edward Watkin (novel)
Starring Lionel Barrymore
Sir Cedric Hardwicke
Beulah Bondi
Music by Franz Waxman
Cinematography Joseph Ruttenberg
Edited by George Boemler
Distributed by MGM
Release date(s)
  • July 6, 1939 (1939-07-06) (United States)
Running time 99 minutes
Country United States
Language English

On Borrowed Time is a 1939 film about the role death plays in life, and how humanity cannot live without it. It is adapted from Paul Osborn's 1938 Broadway hit play. The play, based on a novel by Lawrence Edward Watkin, has been revived twice on Broadway since its original run.

Set in small-town America, the film stars Lionel Barrymore, Beulah Bondi and Sir Cedric Hardwicke. Barrymore plays Julian Northrup, a wheelchair user (Barrymore had broken his hip twice and was now using a wheelchair, though he continued to act), who, with his wife Nellie, played by Bondi, are raising their orphaned grandson, Pud.

Plot[edit]

Mr. Brink (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), the personification of death, has recently taken Pud's (Bobs Watson) parents in an auto wreck. Brink later comes for Gramps (Lionel Barrymore). Believing Brink to be an ordinary stranger, the crotchety old Gramps orders Mr. Brink off the property. Brink takes Granny Nellie (Beulah Bondi) instead.

Pud tells Gramps that when he does a good deed, he will be able to make a wish. Because his apples are constantly being stolen, Gramps wishes that anyone who climbs up his apple tree will have to stay there until he permits them to climb down.

Pud's Aunt Demetria (Eily Malyon) has designs on Pud and the money left him by his parents. Gramps spends much time fending off her efforts to adopt the boy.

When Mr. Brink returns for Gramps, the old man realizes who his visitor is. Determined not to leave Pud to Demetria, Gramps tricks Mr. Brink into climbing the apple tree. While stuck in the tree, he cannot take Gramps or anyone else. The only way anyone or anything can die is if they touch Mr. Brink or the apple tree.

Demetria plots to have Gramps committed to a psychiatric hospital when he claims that Death is trapped in his apple tree. He proves his story is true by shooting the man who has come to take him to the asylum - the man lives when he should have died.

Gramps's doctor (Henry Travers) is now a believer, but he tries to convince Gramps to let Death down so people who are suffering can find release. Gramps refuses, so the doctor arranges for the local sheriff to commit Gramps while Pud is delivered to Demetria's custody. With the help of his housekeeper (Una Merkel), Gramps tricks both of them into believing they are scheduled to go with Mr. Brink when he comes down from the tree. They beg Gramps to convince Brink otherwise, and Demetria vows never to bother Gramps or Pud again.

Later, Mr. Brink dares Pud to climb the tree. Pud gets over the fence Gramps has had built around the tree, but falls and is crippled for life. Distraught, Gramps lets Death down from the tree. He takes both Gramps and Pud, who find they can walk again. In the final scene, they walk together up a beautiful country lane and hear Granny Nellie calling to them from beyond a brilliant light.

Cast[edit]

Dick Van Patten had a minor role.[1]

Reception[edit]

Frank S. Nugent said the film "isn't nearly so effective on the screen as it was on the stage", pointing out the "Hays code required the toning down of the salty dialogue that was at once the most comically shocking and endearing virtue" of Gramps and Pud. According to Nugent:[2]

The picture, like the play, is a tender thing and wistful, fantastic in its way, yet firmly rooted in human soil. It is absurd and it is charming and it is not at all stupendous. And it has, we are pleased to report, a company of players who have fallen admirably under the spell of their drama's mood. Best among them, to our mind, are Beulah Bondi's Granny, young Bobs Watson's Pud, Sir Cedric Harddicke's Mr. Brink and Eily Malyon's Aunt Dimmy. Mr. Barrymore's Gramps is well enough, we suppose. It is probably unfair to hold his Lionel Barrymorism against him.

References[edit]

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