Way Back Home (1931 film)

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Way Back Home
Way Back home film poster 1931 film.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by William A. Seiter
Produced by William LeBaron
Written by Jane Murfin
Starring Phillips Lord
Effie Palmer
Frank Albertson
Bette Davis
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography J. Roy Hunt
Edited by Arthur Roberts
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release date(s) November 13, 1931 (1931-11-13)
Running time 81 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $400,000

Way Back Home is a 1931 American drama film directed by William A. Seiter. The screenplay by Jane Murfin is based on characters created for the NBC Radio show Seth Parker by Phillips Lord.

Plot[edit]

A decade earlier, Jonesport, Maine preacher Seth Parker and his wife offered shelter to runaway Robbie Turner, who as an infant was abandoned by his sadistic, alcoholic father Rufe. Mary Lucy Duffy, who has been banished from her home by her father for fraternizing with farm hand David Clark, is living with the Parkers as well, and her romance with David attracts the attention of the local gossips. Years earlier, David's mother Rose had run off with a stranger, and when she and her illegitimate infant son returned to Jonesport, they were shunned by the townspeople.

Mary Lucy and David plan to elope to Bangor, but Seth encourages them to stay by offering to pay for a proper wedding. Rufe breaks into the Parker home to kidnap Robbie and attacks Mary Lucy when she tries to protect the boy. Seth pursues Rufe and Robbie and manages to intercept them before they board a train. Because Seth is not Robbie's legal guardian, the boy is placed in an orphanage, where he awaits a decision about his future. Meanwhile, Seth lectures the townspeople on the subject of tolerance and implores them to accept Rose and her newlywed son and his bride. Robbie returns to Jonesport, having been legally entrusted to the care of the Parkers.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Phillips Lord had created the character of preacher and folksy philosopher Seth Parker for a Sunday night series broadcast by NBC Radio.[1] Its popularity led RKO Radio Pictures to purchase the film rights and assign Jane Murfin to write a screenplay with Parker and his wife as the central characters. Originally entitled Other People's Business, it drew criticism from a studio script reader, who thought the plot was dated and noted, "A story of this type should never take itself seriously, for the day when pictures like The Old Homestead [a 1915 Famous Players film focused on a popular New England vaudevillian] would grip the attention of a movie audience is lost forever." The reader cited the commercial failure of Check and Double Check, a 1930 feature inspired by Amos 'n' Andy, as proof radio shows did not necessarily adapt well for the screen, and noted most Seth Parker listeners were "those people who are interested in the singing of hymns, old folk songs, and a very simple brand of humor" and that the "average young person, between the ages of fifteen and thirty, who form a very large percentage of the movie audiences, do not listen to the broadcast."[2] Despite the readers's misgivings, RKO supervising producer Pandro S. Berman greenlighted the project and budgeted it at $400,000.[3]

Berman negotiated with Universal Pictures for the loan of Bette Davis, whose contract with the studio just had been renewed following her completion of Waterloo Bridge, and Carl Laemmle, Jr. agreed to loan her out for a fee of $300 per week.[3] Davis was pleased with the attention paid to her by cinematographer J. Roy Hunt. "I was truly overjoyed," she later recalled. "Plus the part I played was an important one - and a charming one. It gave me some confidence in myself for the first time since leaving the theater in New York."[3]

The film was shot on location in Santa Cruz, California because of the small town's New England-like atmosphere.[3] Motion Picture Herald reviewed it as Other People's Business,[2] the title under which it was released in Great Britain, although domestically it was changed to Way Back Home when Phillips Lord published his book Seth Parker & His Jonesport Folks: Way Back Home to coincide with the release of the film.[3]

Critical reception[edit]

Andre Sennwald of The New York Times observed, "Seth Parker, the radio sage, is shedding a rather appealing sweetness and light ... in his first motion picture ... [His] following will not be disappointed and those who do not know the character will find a gentle and frequently moving entertainment."[4] In later years, Bette Davis commented, "I'm glad Sennwald felt about it as a did. He obviously accepted it for what it was meant to be - not a masterpiece, just a slice of Yankee village life."[3]

Variety thought "As entertainment the film is unbelievably bad. The story is strictly an old-style proposed tearjerker. It runs 81 minutes which seem like 181."[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Harmon, Jim, The Great Radio Heroes. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company 2001. ISBN 0-7864-0850-2, pg. 31
  2. ^ a b "Notes for Way Back Home (1931)". Turner Classic Movies. Archived from the original on July 10, 2010. Retrieved July 10, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Stine, Whitney, and Davis, Bette, Mother Goddam: The Story of the Career of Bette Davis. New York: Hawthorn Books 1974. ISBN 0-8015-5184-6, pp. 13-14
  4. ^ Sennwald, Andre (January 16, 1932). "Seth Parker's Film Bow.". The New York Times. Retrieved July 9, 2010. 

External links[edit]