We added this film to the holiday watch list this year, and it’s the first of our garland of movies, as it has a character connection to the next film on the list (Bachelor Mother) and to the last (It’s a Wonderful Life). Frankly we were disappointed in the film, and it probably will not make the cut for next year’s viewing.
Set in Wisconsin in the 1850s, the film begins in a bleak, snow-covered landscape with a young boy pulling a sled holding his younger sister. In flashback, he recalls the story of his Scottish parents coming to Wisconsin, their repeated tragic setbacks, a few small joys, the support of neighbors, and the birth of their six children. The father (Cameron Mitchell) dies of diphtheria, and shortly after the mother (Glynis Johns) dies of typhoid, leaving six orphan children. On her death bed, the mother gave the eldest son the task of finding homes for each of his siblings, and the last section of the film shows each of the children being taken to their new homes: thus the alternative title of the film, The Day They Gave Babies Away, which was the title of the book that inspired the film.
While the children are performing in a Christmas Eve pageant when they receive word that their mother is dying of typhoid. They rush home in their costumes. As neighbors are enjoying their feasts, Robbie, the eldest son, offers each of his brothers and sisters to a different family, thinking that no one will refuse on Christmas Day.
Royal Dano, who was the voice of Jacob Marley in Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, appears in this movie as Howard Tyler, one of the kindly townsfolk. He appeared in dozens of one-off roles in TV shows in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s . He played the disciple Peter in Nicholas Ray’s King of Kings (1961).
Ellen Corby, who plays Mrs. Raiden in a brief spot in this movie, will be seen again in Pocketful of Miracles and It’s a Wonderful Life (both directed by Frank Capra). She is best known for her Emmy-winning role as Grandma Esther in The Waltons, but she had a long career as a character actor in movies in the ’40s and ’50s and then in TV in the ’60s and ’70s. Of her many roles, one of my favorites is Miss McCardle, Humphrey Bogart’s sour-faced secretary, in Sabrina (1954).
Other notable actors in All Mine to Give include Glynis Johns (best known as Mrs. Banks in Mary Poppins), Cameron Mitchell (look for him as the gangster Karl Rojeck in one of my favorite comedies—My Favorite Year), and Jon Provost (who went on to play Timmy Martin in TV’s Lassie). Reta Shaw plays the only fully negative character in All Mine to Give, the self-righteous neighbor Mrs. Runyon. Shaw’s face may be familiar through in roles in two Disney films, (Pollyanna and Mary Poppins) and loads of TV series, including recurring roles in Bewitched and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Alan Hale Jr., who plays Tom Cullen, was best known as the Skipper in TV’s Gilligan’s Island, which connects him to Jim Backus in Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. Finally, Ernest Truex, who plays Dr. Delbert, provides the character connection to the next film up, Bachelor Mother. Look for more about him in the post for that film.
Ernest Truex also provides one of two connections to Fred Astaire in this film. In the 1920s, Truex appeared on two benefit concert bills with Astaire for the Actors Equity Association. They were fellow members of The Lambs Club and appeared together at The Lambs Spring Gambol in 1925.
The other Astaire connection in All Mine to Give is famed film composer Max Steiner. Before heading to Hollywood, Steiner did the orchestrations for one of Astaire’s big Broadway hits, Lady, Be Good! (1924). Steiner and Astaire reconnected in Hollywood, as Steiner was head of RKO’s music department and musical director for many of the first Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals.
LOVE THIS MOVIE
We don’t mind a sad film, even at Christmas time, but this film just didn’t engage us. There were occasional bright spots, and we enjoyed seeing familiar actors in unusual settings, but the movie didn’t hold together, perhaps because it tried to include too many different folks. As a result, we never felt a strong connection to anyone. I’m afraid it won’t reappear on our holiday film schedule in future years.
WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE FILM
All Mine to Give is scheduled for Turner Classic Movies on December 23 at 4 p.m. (EST).