I love that people have dug deep in this challenge and brought me some classic-era films that I not only hadn’t seen, but hadn’t even heard of! I’ve see a few Frank Borzage films but never really gotten the hype, so I was glad to get another chance to check him out – and spoilers, I got another one the following week, heh. Based on the strength of the two films, I need to reevaluate all the others I’d seen and dismissed, because I loved them both.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, Little Man, What Now?. The two main characters are poor folks in Weimar-era Germany, and we first meet them at a gynecologist’s office. The doctor confirms Lammchen’s pregnancy, then takes just about all of Hans’ paltry salary in payment. The unmarried couple (the only real reason it deserves a Pre-Code tag) gets married secretly, because his boss is set on getting him to marry his daughter – without stringing her along, Hans is in danger of losing his position.
Soon enough, that happens and the two move in with Hans’ step-mother, but are horrified that she seems to be running an upper-crust bordello. Hans continues to try and fail to get good enough work to support his soon-to-be-three family, and despairs of ever managing. Lammchen is endlessly hopeful and supportive, but there’s just not a lot of opportunity.
Sounds kind of familiar.
The film threatens occasionally to become maudlin or wallowing in self-pity, but Borzage directs with great sensitivity and instead you just really feel for this young couple, very much in love but very much unable to provide for their material needs. Not all the circumstances in the film are modern (today Lammchen would likely be working, too), but I’ve seen the look in Hans’ eyes in people today – people who just want to work and provide for their family but can’t find a job that pays enough and fits their skills, and who feel like a failure no matter how hard they try.
The film ends on a note of hope that could easily feel tacked on, but just felt wonderful and beautiful to me. Margaret Sullavan is an actress who often flies under the radar, despite a really excellent and fairly well-known turn in The Shop Around the Corner, and she is luminous here. Douglass Montgomery, similarly, isn’t in very much past the Pre-Code era, but he’s heartbreaking and effective (due in no small part to how Borzage lights him).
I didn’t know anything about this one going in it, and it’s easily become one of the ones I’ll remember with the most fondness.
Stats and stuff…
directed by Frank Borzage, written by William Anthony McGuire
starring Margaret Sullavan, Douglass Montgomery, Alan Hale, Catherine Doucet
I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how Little Man, What Now? entered my chart:
Little Man, What Now? > Rhythm on the River
Little Man, What Now? > Mr. Sardonicus
Little Man, What Now? < Frozen
Little Man, What Now? > Belle de jour
Little Man, What Now? < Stand by Me
Little Man, What Now? < It’s Such a Beautiful Day
Little Man, What Now? > The Love Trap
Little Man, What Now? < The Cabin in the Woods
Little Man, What Now? < The Ladykillers (1955)
Little Man, What Now? > Julia’s Eyes
Little Man, What Now? > The American
Little Man, What Now? > The Dynamiter
Final #660 out of 3708 films on my chart (82%)
It is now my #1 Frank Borzage film, my #1 Margaret Sullavan film, my #2 Douglass Montgomery film, my #16 Pre-Code film, and my #5 film of 1934.
Little Man, What Now? was recommended by Jeremy Bond, a friend from Twitter.
A few more screenshots…