On Borrowed Time
|On Borrowed Time|
|Directed by||Harold S. Bucquet|
|Produced by||Sidney Franklin|
|Written by||Alice D.G. Miller
Paul Osborn (play)
Lawrence Edward Watkin (novel)
Sir Cedric Hardwicke
|Music by||Franz Waxman|
|Editing by||George Boemler|
|Running time||99 minutes|
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.
One day the fedora-wearing Mr. Brink (the personification of death, played by Sir Cedric Hardwicke), who has recently taken Pud's (Bobs Watson) parents in an auto wreck, comes for Gramps (Lionel Barrymore). Not knowing who he's talking to, the crotchety old Gramps orders Mr. Brink off the property. Later, Mr. Brink takes Granny Nellie (Beulah Bondi).
Pud, Gramps' grandson, tells him 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 that climbs up his apple tree will have to stay there until he lets them down.
Pud's aunt, Demetria Riffle (Eily Malyon), has designs on Pud and especially 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 and determined not to leave Pud to Demetria, Gramps tricks Mr. Brink into climbing the old 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.
Meanwhile, Demetria plots to have Gramps committed to the insane asylum for claiming 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 giving custody of Pud to Demetria. Gramps, however, with the help of his housekeeper Marcia Giles (Una Merkel), tricks both of them into believing they are scheduled to go with Mr. Brink when he comes down. Both beg him to convince Brink otherwise, with Demetria vowing 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 Grandma calling to them from beyond a brilliant light.
- Lionel Barrymore as Julian Northrup (Gramps)
- Cedric Hardwicke as Mr. Brink (as Sir Cedric Hardwicke)
- Beulah Bondi as Nellie Northrup (Granny)
- Una Merkel as Marcia Giles, the Northrups' housekeeper
- Bobs Watson as John 'Pud' Northrup
- Nat Pendleton as Mr. Grimes
- Henry Travers as Dr. James Evans
- Grant Mitchell as Ben Pilbeam, Gramps' lawyer
- Eily Malyon as Demetria Riffle
- James Burke as Sheriff Burlingame
- Charles Waldron as Reverend Murdock
- Ian Wolfe as Charles Wentworth
- Phillip Terry as Bill Lowry, Ben Pilbeam's assistant and Marcia's boyfriend
- Truman Bradley as James Northrup
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:
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.
- LoBianco, Lorraine. "On Borrowed Time (1939)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2012-11-24.
- Nugent, Frank S. (July 7, 1939). "Paul Osborn's Fantasy, On Borrowed Time, Reaches the Capitol's Screen Under a Metro By-Line—The Movies March On at Music Hall". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-11-24.
- On Borrowed Time at allmovie
- On Borrowed Time at the Internet Movie Database
- On Borrowed Time at the TCM Movie Database
- 1952 Best Plays radio adaptation of original play at Internet Archive
- 1946 Theatre Guild on the Air radio adaptation of original play at Internet Archive