The Human Comedy (1943) Poster

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A fable from another time.
jbpink1013 August 2003
Way, way back in the 9th grade, in the early 60's, our principal canceled all our afternoon classes and had the entire 9th grade meet in the assembly room (lunchroom without the tables) so he could show us this movie on a 16 mm projector. That's how strongly he felt about this movie. He pointed out, afterwards, that this is a fable, about how life could be if...

After a few decades I bought the video and watched it - not from the viewpoint of comparing it to today's movies, but in the context of what my old principal told us. Just to see if the old impressions held up in light of today's jaded world. It did, and I was surprised at how thoroughly I enjoyed it.

Note that the name of the town is Ithica, that two of the main characters are named Homer and Ulysses, & that the story is introduced from a "heavenly voice from above". All mythological references.

It is showing us how life could be, maybe should be, even with life's tragedies. Not too often, even back then, do you see a family saying their prayers, then discussing them. And, yes, it'd be great if male macho rivalries were settled that easily. And it'd be great if non-relative adults would take the time to help young adults improve (without worrying about ulterior motives). It's all what-ifs, but great what ifs.

Mickey Rooney was never better, and most of the cast was excellent. I highly recommend this movie only if you are aware of what you are really watching. 4/5
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One of the most heartwarming movies I have ever seen.
zen1124 February 2001
The Human Comedy begins with the voice of the deceased father describing life in the small town of Ithaca California. He slowly introduces the viewer to his family in such a warm and loving way, that you are convinced that love really does survive death. The movie goes on to follow the lives of the family as they cope with the daily trials and tribulations of life in war time America. To those of us removed by time from this era, this movie transports you back to a place where values such as patriotism, neighborliness, compassion and community are alive and vibrate in the hearts and souls of those living through the war on America's home front. This movie never fails to move me every time I view it. There is really something magical about the confluence of events, from the voice and ghostly appearance of the recently deceased father, to the flesh and blood everyday characters that populate the film, to the young soldier who never had a family and comes to Ithica to fufill his own dream. What a movie! And the most surprising element of the entire story is the fact that even though told from the vantage point of the dead, the movie is totally and refreshenly life affirming. One of the most heart warming movies I have ever seen, I cannot recommend it enough.
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A gentle glimpse into another time
luannjim20 November 2000
While the years may not have been entirely kind to "The Human Comedy," they have certainly been kinder than some of the comments I've seen here, the venom and churlish malice of which frankly astonish me.

In 1943, M-G-M commissioned author William Saroyan to develop a screen story about the World War II homefront. The result was this, which Howard Estabrook turned into a screenplay and Saroyan himself expanded into a novel -- which explains why the film was released before the book was published.

Yes, "The Human Comedy" is propaganda, but with a difference. Most of the propaganda of WWII arose from anger and grim determination, and films like "Air Force" and "Operation Tokyo" look excessive and embarrassing now that passions have cooled. The propaganda of "The Human Comedy" rises not from anger but from fear -- the fear that the crucible of war might be too harsh for the spirit of small-town America to survive.

To be honest, much of "The Human Comedy" also looks excessive and embarrassing now the fears have been alleviated. But few films struck such a chord in audiences of the time by showing them, if not as they were, then at least as they liked to picture themselves.

The film's appeal now is more than just as a historical curiosity, however. Despite the Andy Hardy sentimentality and Saroyan's blue-collar pseudo-poetry, "The Human Comedy" has much to recommend it if you can resist viewing it through the prism of our own time, with the war safely won these 50 years. It has, for example, one of Mickey Rooney's best and most restrained performances and a charming performance by Jackie "Butch" Jenkins as his baby brother -- he became a child star on the strength of this film, but was never this good again.

Frank Morgan, too, is first-rate as a sad old man taking pride in his work and refuge in his bottle; Morgan was an idiosyncratic actor, but he was capable of great depth and deserves to be known for something besides "The Wizard of Oz." Director Clarence Brown, now sadly neglected, shows once again his sure touch with Americana and his sensitive handling of child and teen actors.

"The Human Comedy" is a bit cloying, perhaps, but it's also a compassionate and generous-spirited film. It deserves to be regarded with the same generosity.
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8/10
I love this forgotten piece of American nostalgia with it's family values, patriotism and sweet sentimentality.
larry41onEbay25 July 2005
I first saw this film on TV as a child in the 1960s and thought it delightful and sad. All the characters learn about the values of life, family, honesty and love. Yes it's packed with whole-kernel corn but what's wrong with that? I enjoy a good film noir, screwball comedy or even classic horror film but every once in a while it is good to think about the hopes our grandparents had for a better world after WWII and why we fought that war.

So if you don't like the WALTONS style of family values, please skip it and take in a modern film calculated by accountants and marketing departments to separate your money from your pocket.

But if you like a good story packed with an ensemble of very talented actors delivering charming home-spun dialogue in a near dream like world of hope, check this out.

My favorite line is delivered by the stunningly beautiful Marsha Hunt (who is still a beauty today!) when she tries to convince handsome James Craig they are both really in love, "You do love me, don't you? Yes you do, you know you do." Of course he walks away with his head in the clouds, and in love. You will be too when you give this dated cookie a bite!
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9/10
I watch this movie every time it is shown .... it NEVER gets "old".
onewire-130 January 2006
I am a 73yr 1st generation American (both parents from Poland); I lived all of WWII in St. Louis, MO; by coincidence, our house was next to a "Store Front" which contained a 24hr Western Union; and, my 2yr older brother (Art) bicycle-delivered greetings and messages for Western Union.

Great Movie!!!! Brings back the memories of that time. I could always tell when Art had a bad day. The situations (family life, Park Picnics, sand lot roughnecking by the kids) depicted in the movie follows pretty closely the families that I recall from the mid-war era. Tough times in '43 .... we knew it was getting better, just a question of "How Soon?'. I walked to school with my 3 sisters and Art .... about 10 blocks .... allowed us to see the In Service Banners with Blues Stars "Active Duty", Red Stars "Pow or MIA", Gold Stars "KIA".

Any and all adverse comments about this Movie's era can only come from a person(s) ignorance or their need to rewrite History. Those of us who are left are becoming fewer every year ..... a handful after 2031 ..... in the meantime, we ARE the living history.
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Just like where I grew up.
albanyaquarium14 October 2004
I moved to Fresno, California in 1948 when I was 4. I was welcome at all the gardens to plug a melon. That meant to cut a triangle and then remove that piece to be sure the melon was ready. A scary old man showed me how to do that. Then I learned a person was not scary just because they were not known and old. Yes I grew up a few miles south of town. And everybody knew everybody else. I vividly recall Rhoeding Park where the hot and weary travelers stopped amidst the large trees to cool from the summers heat. Air Conditioning was new. It was called 'cooled by refrigeration'. Swamp coolers were the norm and created a lot of humidity. Days in the 100s were the normal occurrence. Many many groups of various nationalities picknicked there. This movie may seem unreal to someone from more recent times and other places. But it sure reminds me of my childhood home. Families were a lot closer then. I lived there 5 years after the movie was made and possibly 5-8 after it was set. I too waved at the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific trains. I rode a bicycle for miles from home. I didn't know bad people existed. All adults were friendly and helpful. I knew a man like the old telegrapher. Others problems were my problems. The Korean war took our beloved doctor that made housecalls and knew everyones first name. Mothers worried about their husband returning Children did not understand. I attended the Presbyterian Church. I miss those times. I miss the trust we had with strangers. I miss the safety we felt at night. I even miss the names like Zahigian and Kechaloian. It is a shame younger people feel this was not a real place and time. Roger
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8/10
A small town family during WWII
blanche-220 September 2007
Nothing much happens in "The Human Comedy," and yet, everything happens in this gentle 1943 drama based on a story by William Saroyan and directed by Clarence Brown. It stars Mickey Rooney, Van Johnson, Frank Morgan, James Craig, Marsha Hunt, Fay Bainter, Donna Reed and Dorothy Malone. The main focus is on the Macauley family, and the opening and closing narration is by their late patriarch (Ray Collins) who initially introduces the audience to the family and to the town of Ithaca, California.

With oldest brother Marcus away fighting in World War II, it falls to Homer (Rooney) to add to the money his brother sends their mother (Fay Bainter) by getting a job in the local telegraph office after school. There, he finds himself sobering up the drunken man who runs the telegraph (Frank Morgan) and delivering telegrams - sometimes singing, sometimes from the War Department informing a family of a death. Homer has to grow up fast and ponder some serious issues.

There are others besides the Macauleys - kind Tom Spangler and his upper class girl (Marsha Hunt) - Tom is nervous about meeting her parents. Then there is Tobey (John Craven) a soldier with no parents and no real home who is befriended by Marcus while in the service.

"The Human Comedy" is filled with delightful scenes of innocence, goodness, sadness, mischief, tragedy and humor. One night, Bess Macauley and her friend Mary are on their way to the movies when they meet three lonely soldiers on leave (one of whom is Robert Mitchum) and invite them to come along. When the men leave them, the girls get a kiss on the cheek; the youngest Macauley, Ulysses, finds himself alone when the other boys leave after watching a live ad for a drink - is the man a real man or a huge wind-up toy? When he leans over and scares the heck out of Ulysses, Ulysses finds out and runs for his life.

The scenes of Marcus and his fellow soldiers shows us the youth of these men, their fears, and their homesickness; the scenes of the people at home show us what not having any young men around is like for a small town - the worry and the loneliness as they keep things together so their sons and fathers will have something to come home to.

Mickey Rooney, one of the screen's great talents, gives a subdued yet emotional performance as Homer. Frank Morgan is very good as the pathetic Mr. Grogan, and Van Johnson is likable as Marcus. The rest of the cast follows suit - everyone is excellent.

Was a town ever like this? Possibly, in a gentler time. The Human Comedy reminds us of old-fashioned things like responsibility, letter-writing, and prayer, and that love is eternal. A very warm movie. Highly recommended.
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8/10
Homefront USA
teeseller12 September 2007
Author William Saroyan had a special love for America — a special kind of love that seems to be reserved for us fortunate ones who are immigrants to this great country. Or, at least, that's how it was a generation or two ago.

This film displays this love for America in the special way of the home front milieu of the 40s. No doubt, it's a sentimental, even maudlin look at the meaning of "home." Homer McCauley (Mickey Rooney) is a telegraph runner for his boss, the wonderful Frank Morgan, in the small California town of Ithaca, where he must deliver telegrams to the folks who have lost a loved one in the war. The film shows in many touching ways what it was like to be on the sidelines (keep your chin up; do the best you can) while the boys where fighting "over there."

As a small boy growing up in Germany during this time, it was one of the first American films I ever saw. It, more than any other thing, made me understand what it would be like to be somewhere where the little things in life are important, while the 'big stuff' takes care of itself. A place where small, unimportant folks count for as much as, or even more than, the ones hogging the news.

Watch this film if you can (shown on Turner Classic Movies) and see what we have lost and what we must find a way to get back into our lives.
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9/10
A WWII must see movie
mcfly-174 February 1999
This movie, like the "The Sullivans" is extremely had to find at your video store. Set in Ithaca, Calif. It's the story of young boy(played by Mickey Rooney) who delivers telegrams in his small town during the war. Needless to say he has to deliver the heart wrenching "Dear Sir/Ma'am: The War Department regrets to inform you of the death of your son........" It truly is a great movie of small town values,hopes and fears during the war. If you liked the Sullivans, this movie will move you also. And interesting note here, is that the book was published after the movie.
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10/10
Great, Great Piece Of Americana
ccthemovieman-15 April 2006
This is a unique drama, one of those unusual dramas where there are no villains, no evil people. Yet, it's not a sweet-and-sugary movie, either. It's simply a "slice of life," as they say, or "Americana." In the case, about life in a small California town during the middle of World War II. It is very true to the book written by William Saroyan.

The story features genuinely nice people who trust one another, respect one another, have manners, read the Bible and say their prayers, do what they are told and apologize if they are nasty....not exactly what you've seen in films in the past half century.

Although the film is a bunch of vignettes featuring a number of characters, Mickey Rooney is the central figure and I wonder if he ever was better. He is outstanding in here. I never realized what a good actor he was until I saw this movie.

Frank Morgan also was memorable in here, and I usually didn't care for the roles he played many times. But here, he's very serious and honest and real.

The "slices of life" include Rooney and his family, school friends, his job as a telegram delivery boy; Morgan and his drinking problem; James Craig and his romance; Van Johnson and his army buddies and Jackie "Butch" Jenkins and his little friends.

Also of note are three young military men making an appearance, actors who became well known by the end of the decade: Robert Mitchum, Barry Nelson and Don DeFore. Donna Reed, Fay Bainter and Marsha Hunt add the female touch and a big dose of wholesome beauty. This has a deep cast, as you can see. There are other recognizable actors in here, too, such as "Alfalfa" (Carl Switzer) of "Our Gang" fame.

This picture of "Americana" is so innocent compared to today, it is almost shocking. A kiss was a big deal; nobody locked their doors at night; the girls went out on blind dates with the soldiers and all treated each other with respect.

It's a very sentimental film, which is another reason I like it. It's a sad comment about film critics who think that "sentimental" is a dirty word, but even those cynics still had praise for this film. It's so well done that it's hard not to praise it. See for yourself.
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a wonderful movie
m_rappaport-127 September 2004
Sure, it's probably true that this is a highly idealized version of America, but calling it "blatantly patriotic" ignores the fact that all American towns were blatantly patriotic when we fought the Last Good War. The idea that a Homer McCauley had every bit as much chance as a rich kid to make his mark might be uniquely American; he might never live in the big house on the hill, but he could become every bit as beloved in his world as a George Bailey might in Bedford Falls. One thing that makes "Human Comedy" rather unique for its time was that it was set in small-town central California back in the day when that was a long way off for most Americans. A wonderful movie; wish it was avilable on DVD.
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10/10
A simple story about simple people
lugonian23 March 2001
"The Human Comedy" (MGM, 1943), directed by Clarence Brown, is not really a comedy as the title depicts, but actually human story about ordinary people of a simple town in the days of World War II. Mickey Rooney stars as Homer Macauley, a high school student who excels in sports, especially track, working part time as a telegraph boy for old Mr. Grogan (Frank Morgan), in order to support his widowed mother (Fay Bainter), his sister, Bess (Donna Reed), and his kid brother, Ulysses (Jackie "Butch" Jenkins), while his older brother, Marcus (Van Johnson) is off to war. Overlooking the Macauley family is their deceased father, Matthew (Ray Collins), who also narrates the story.

While Rooney gives a well-earned Academy Award nomination as Best Actor for his performance, the storyline doesn't focus all on his Homer character, but on others as well, usually presented on screen in ten minute segments, including Tom Sprangler, (James Craig), his romantic interest with the beautiful Diane Steed (Marsha Hunt), and his meeting with her parents (Henry O'Neill and Katharine Alexander); older Macauley brother, Marcus, serving in the Army and his friendship with a fellow soldier named Tobey George (John Craven), a young man with no family who gets to learn about family life through Matthew's stories; Bess Macauley and her friend, Mary (Dorothy Morris), who go out for the evening and come across three lonely soldiers on leave (Robert Mitchum, Don DeFore and Barry Nelson), and making their brief stay in their town an eventful one; little brother Ulysses being the one and only friend to the friendless Lionel (Darryl Hickman), a pre-teen boy not so popular with the other children who doesn't hold a grudge against them. Lionel is an exceptional character to the story who shows that he has a good and forgiving heart by saying to Mrs. Macauley that even though he isn't invited to mix with the other children his age, he will be there for them when and if they need him; Miss Hicks (Mary Nash), a strict but kind-hearted high school teacher who shows Homer that teacher's aren't always heartless and unfair but are human beings faced with difficult decisions for their students, especially when she must decide whether Homer should remain after school for fighting with a fellow student, Hubert (David Holt), or let him run in the big track meet to compete against Hubert, the boy actually at fault; Mr. Henderson (Clem Bevans), an old geezer who enjoys watching little children pick apples off his tree and watches them run when he comes out of the house with no intention of running them off, etc. Then there is MGM veteran actor Frank Morgan who gives an exceptionally good performance in his role as Willie Grogan, the drunken but good-hearted telegraph operator who must have water splashed in his face by Homer whenever he dozes off on duty and to be given lots of coffee to stay awake, especially when a message is coming through. Aside from Homer having a difficult task in delivering messages to women that their sons or husband have been killed in the war, he finds one particular telegram that changes his attitude towards the world, temporarily, until that memorable and heartfelt closing scene in which Homer is approached by a visiting soldier, Marcus' closest friend, Tobey George.

"The Human Comedy", from the book by author William Saroyan, shows viewers as well as those who have read his book, that his labor of love is people and that there is goodness in everybody. Done in true family fashion MGM style, "The Human Comedy" shows what family life was back then and what's lacking in today's society. Nothing really exciting happens in this leisurely paced film running at 118 minutes, but good performances all around, especially by Rooney, Morgan and Bainter. Available for viewing on Turner Classic Movies, video cassette and DVD format. (****)
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9/10
Frank Morgan's finest role
danielj_old99925 August 2005
While Rooney is touching in his role here, Frank Morgan as the drunken telegraph operator here delivered one of the most poignant performances I have ever seen in a film. He proves here that he was capable of great things. Watching this film made me think of the great moments in so many films that have been dwarfed by other, more famous, and more overrated moments in more well-known films. Pay attention to the scene in the telegraph office if you can get hold of this movie;I was truly moved nearly to tears.This was released years ago in the "Great Books" series on MGM video,and should still be available in libraries and video stores which have not disposed of their older classic videos.
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This Movie MUST! be restored and released on DVD! I hope the studio sees this.
williame22 December 2003
This Movie Must be restored and released on DVD. I hope the studio monitors these sites. This film is a snapshot of the mindset and moral ideals that American society agreed upon during the period of the 1940's. As such, it is history. Many today scoff at these ideals. Personally, I think they are to be sought after. This is a wonderful, uplifting movie. Everyone should see it.
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Designed to make audiences feel good during wartime.
jehedgehog8 March 2003
By today's standards, this is sappy and sentimental. It was filmed for a different audience in a different time. But to view it now, one can become empathetic to the situation in smalltown America, 1943. Families were torn apart by military action. Young men went to war; many were maimed or died. Younger siblings had to work to support their families. There was no welfare nor unemployment, no food stamps, free clinics, government subsidies. Families had to plan their lives around rationing stamps for food and fuel. The movie house was still the place where they went to see the news reels and to be entertained. Money was tight and an evening at the movies was a special treat. "The Human Comedy" depicts what was fairly typical in many towns across the country. Times have changed, or have they? When this country is involved in a war, we may view this film through different eyes. As it is, this film can serve as a glimpse into typical people's lives during World War II. (On a side note, look for some well-known actors, such as an older Alfalfa, Robert Mitchum and Don DeFore.)
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10/10
Worth More Than Words
rsternesq19 February 2009
This is a wonderful experience. It is a portrait of the America that still lives in many hearts and is the reason that many have the freedom to insult her and her brave sons. Apart from the war theme which continues to happen with every tragedy in every corner of the world where there is misery, the misery goes on until America intervenes -- much to the complaint of our home-grown naysayers -- there is the bright promise of America as the bright shining city on the hill. People swim through shark infested waters to reach these shores, not to escape. I am so happy that while I was watching this morning I could remember growing up in this golden land and that Mickey Rooney is still with us and I still remember when Americans were proud, happy and optimistic and worshiped God rather than a mere politician. Oh well, watch this movie and hope that we can go back to the days when the town park was a place where people danced and sang and above all celebrated the blessings of America.
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This movie has haunted me since I first saw it in 1943.
dugfowlr13 March 1999
I first saw this movie as an 11 year old in 1943 and have been haunted by it since. I know it is very sentimental, but I am glad that the movie makers in those days tried to inculcate basic human values, even though they may have been a bit unrealistic.

I consider Mickey Rooney a very fine actor, and I have always liked Van Johnson enormously. I liked Frank Morgan's role, having seen him in The Wizard of Oz, and listened to him as "Daddy" in the Baby Snooks radio program.
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Oh you jaded lot...
edgarsouse17 March 2003
I saw HUMAN COMEDY when I was a young teen and its story haunted me. Now I'm grownup, jaded, if I saw it again I'd probably make snide comments like so many others here -- "LB Mayer wanted to sell the lie of homespun values all wrapped up pretty; if the movie had been made at Warners the set decoration certainly would've been grittier," etc etc.

But I come to its defense on the basis of my viewing it at a young age. Consider the story: Young boy lies about his age to get a job, ends up delivering telegrams informing families their sons are dead... that's potent. Probably even at age 13 I was able to figure out the invevitable ending: What would the FINAL telegram be? But it stayed with me in a way that few movies have...

Would it be more acceptable if it were classified as adolescent literature?
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10/10
Great and Peaceful Movie! WHAT A CHANGE!
muffinheuer20036 January 2005
I would say this was the greatest movie I've ever seen. OK, I'm very partial to Mickey Rooney as an actor. In my book, there is NONE GREATER! HE WAS THE BEST!

This movie is so peaceful compared to today's garbage. What a relief it was. I would highly recommend this movie to good Christian people who would like to see a good clean, family movie. Most people cannot enjoy this movie because it don't have sex, blasphemy and the like.

OK, yes it is sentimental....and may I ask, since when was there something wrong with that????!!! Mickey Rooney was so cute in this too! He was the best! 10 STARS FOR THE MIGHTY MICK!
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Not as unrealistic as the people who believe such times never existed
Django692411 January 2005
In fact, much of this film reminds me of small town America in the 50s, when I was growing up. Although crime and racism and injustice did exist everywhere before mid 20th century, it was more characteristic of heavily populated urban areas than in the country and the small towns where most of America lived. I suspect it was the soldiers who returned from the madness of war and the evidence of gross inhumanity they saw who started the emphasis on seeing the world as a predominantly evil place. And who can blame them. This movie does ignore that side, but that isn't to say the goodness it chooses to celebrate didn't exist then, or now. Today, it's more to the general taste to dwell on the uglier aspects of life. This is just as unrealistic as this film's dwelling on the more beautiful, but if you have to err on one side, I prefer this movie's point of view.
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You had to be there.
Marlowe-662 March 2004
Sappy and sentimental? Of course. The conflict is off screen; it's the war. And the war is what America was about in 1943. 600,000 young men stripped from their homes and killed. In every neighborhood at least one. Ah, you had to be there. In a way I feel sorry for you sad cynics who weren't. It was the last time we saw an America to believe in. My war came later and ruined all that. This movie's a time trip, sentimental and bittersweet. But, remember, behind its saccharine coating is the...horror.
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9/10
Have Your Kleenex Handy
utgard1415 April 2014
Tear-jerking Americana that you're either going to get or not. There's not much middle ground. It's set during WWII and it's about the effects of the war on one American town and one family, in particular. To say "they don't make 'em like this anymore" is an understatement and it goes far beyond simply the era the story takes place in. It's a very moving story that's about facing the tragedies of life with dignity and courage. It's about the value of family, faith, and love. Films like this are not made for cynics. It's a truly beautiful film with a wonderful cast. All of the actors give touching, authentic performances. Arguably Mickey Rooney's best work. The great Frank Morgan also shines, as this often underrated actor always did. A terrific script with very nice direction from Clarence Brown. This is a movie that I would describe as patriotic, sentimental, and nostalgic with absolutely no disdain meant towards any of those words. Ignore the cynics and open your heart to this great film, a time capsule of a bygone era.
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8/10
Homespun goodness.
MartinHafer22 April 2012
One thing MGM did well during the 1940s was homespun family entertainment. While some of it today might seem a bit preachy and old fashioned, they sure had a knack for making films like the Andy Hardy series and films like "The Human Comedy".

The film begins on an odd note. A dead father introduces the audience to his family and his small town! It's set in an unnamed place in America during WWII and you slowly get to learn everyone. The film is full of old fashioned values and is greatly improved by a fine cast--including Mickey Rooney, Van Johnson, James Craig, Donna Reed and Frank Morgan. Not surprisingly, William Saroyan received the Oscar for his script. Overall, a sweet little film with a lot of heart that will appeal to all those but the severely cynical. Clever and easy to like.

By the way, the plot involving the orphaned friend coming to town was later recycled in "The Andy Griffith Show" in the episode entitled "Stranger in Town" from the first season. It also was used in the 1950s in an episode of "Studio One".
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A simply wonderful portrait of small town life in time of war
rick_710 June 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The Human Comedy (Clarence Brown, 1943) is a wonderful slice of Americana about a small western town living in the shadow of war. Ray Collins is the fond father, two years dead, who introduces us to his family: wife Fay Bainter and sons Marcus (Van Johnson), Homer (Mickey Rooney) and Ulysses (the great child star Jackie "Butch" Jenkins, making his debut). Johnson is being shipped abroad to fight, while Homer has to shoulder new burdens as the man of the family - and isn't sure he can cope. Ulysses, meanwhile, is confused about the disappearance of his father and his brothers, but finds solace watching the railroad. Homer's night shifts at a telegraph office introduce us to soft-hearted manager James Craig and alcoholic operator Frank Morgan, along with Craig's sometime girlfriend Marsha Hunt, as Marcus crosses paths with rootless orphan John Craven, who longs for his friend's sense of belonging.

The film effortlessly juggles its diverse elements, encompassing romantic comedy, coming-of-age tale and Home Front drama in its sentimental, episodic manner. Heady sing-alongs jostle for space with pre-marital patch-ups and scenes of school life, while a cinema trip becomes not just an escape from the every day - but from the horrors of war. Countless passages show the gutting, life-changing intrusion of conflict, and of the adult world it represents. The highlights are frequent and enduring: Jenkins' opening scene, Rooney's classroom spat with his love rival, Johnson and Craven's night-time chat about Ithaca, and the heartbreaking ending, which recalls C. Aubrey Smith welcoming his son into Heaven in Beyond Tomorrow's finest passage. Best of all is Rooney's devastating chat with his mother about the pain of adulthood ("it seems like everything you learn is sad"), after he returns from delivering a telegram to a Mexican woman whose son has died in action. The movie's sole misstep is a drive-thru celebration of the many cultures within America, but you can see why it was included in time of war. There are few films I've seen that so poignantly, potently juxtapose light and dark, balancing knockabout comedy with crushing emotional blows. This is what we are fighting for, it says, but a lot of you are going to get hurt.

The characterisations are uniformly superb, with Jenkins at his most appealing, Johnson never better and Rooney delivering one of his two greatest turns (his other was for director Brown in the following year's National Velvet, also featuring Jenkins). Morgan, who had a lifetime contract at MGM, is best remembered today as The Wizard of Oz in the 1939 film, but he was a staggeringly gifted, versatile performer, and he's great again here. Among those turning up in small roles are an alarmingly young, short-haired Robert Mitchum – who resembles a seven-foot lizard – and Our Gang's Carl 'Alfalfa' Switzer, playing the leader of a small gang nicking apricots from an old man's yard.

That exquisitely-judged sequence typifies this tender, richly atmospheric, superbly-observed movie, which qualifies for the top bracket of Americana alongside such exalted hymns to disappearing or imagined worlds as Stars in My Crown, The Vanishing Virginian (which stars Morgan), On Borrowed Time and One Foot in Heaven. Superbly-scripted, wonderfully acted and with transcendent use of music, it's an emotionally draining experience - and one I'll be revisiting many times over the coming years.
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8/10
A Unique Life Experience
bkoganbing31 December 2010
Based on an autobiographical novel written by William Saroyan, The Human Comedy was one of Mickey Rooney's biggest hits during his tenure at MGM. It's a fine family film in every sense of the word. It's Saroyan's experience of growing up during the previous World War in Fresno, California transferred to the World War II years.

That's the main criticism I have of the film. Saroyan's characters ring true for the World War I years, but by 1942 they are terribly old fashioned. But I'm guessing that audiences liked the idea of old fashioned values being reaffirmed on screen. But note there is no reference at all to the music contemporary with World War II and other such cultural guideposts are missing from the film.

The film is seen through Mickey Rooney's eyes, he's the middle son who goes to school, works as a telegraph messenger and watches out for his younger brother Jackie Jenkins. Older brother Van Johnson is in the army already and the film cuts back to him periodically as a newly enlisted soldier showing his hopes and dreams for the post war world.

Rooney's job as a telegraph messenger carries with it the dubious distinction of having to deliver those black bordered telegrams from the War and Navy Departments telling families about their sons being wounded or killed. Needless to say it becomes a unique life experience for his character.

The tone of The Human Comedy is a great deal like Saroyan's other work, The Time Of Your Life. The mythical town of Ithaca almost becomes a world apart, just like Joe's bar and the customers that inhabit it. Of course the people in the bar are not in for a sad ending that war inevitably brings to some folks. But even in the end Saroyan turns tragedy here into a life fulfilling event. The best modern day comparison I can make to it in a more recent film is Sally Field's Places In The Heart.

Saroyan won an Oscar for his story and The Human Comedy got four other Oscar nominations, for Best Picture, Best Actor for Mickey Rooney, Best Director for Clarence Brown and Best black and white cinematography. Clarence Brown is one of those underrated directors because he toiled mostly at MGM as a contract director. But take a good look at the body of his work and you'll see what I mean.

Though it's characters come from out of the past and are grafted from one war era into another, The Human Comedy still holds up very well for today's audience which might not make the distinction. It contains some of the best work Mickey Rooney ever did on screen and a must for his legion of fans.
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