Won Oscar for Best Supporting Actor (Walter Brennan)
In 1936, director Howard Hawks reunited with "Barbary Coast" co-star Joel McCrea for the screen adaptation of Edna Ferber's novel. Best known for "Show Boat," "Giant," and "Dinner at Eight," Ferber's tale was initially adapted by Jane Murfin, but rewritten by Jules Furthman, who would later pen a trio of Hawks' most successful and enduring films: "Only Angels Have Wings," "To Have and Have Not," and "The Big Sleep."
What makes "Come and Get It" a real curiosity is its troubled production history, and the unique casting of Frances Farmer - herself later to gain notoriety for a huge slide into mental illness, and endure barbaric treatment within a mental asylum.
As outlined in A. Scott Berg's dense biography of producer Goldwyn, Hawks reshaped the film into a "buddy picture," tweaked the dialogue into a more snappy style (best seen in an outrageous and lively barroom brawl), and modified the characters, to the extent that co-star Joel McCrea is virtually irrelevant until the film's final third. Returning from a vulnerable illness, Goldwyn fired Hawks, and yanked William Wyler and cinematographer Rudolph Mate off "Dodsworth" - a film then in its editing phase - to shoot the final half hour of "Come and Get It." The end result is an admittedly uneven film: the first hour is a Hawksian buddy movie with a masculine, world-wise broad; while the final section is a portrait of a family slowly becoming aware of its father's ill fixation on the daughter of the mistress he dumped twenty years before. (Itself quite a mouthful, and no doubt risqué, after the institution of the moral Production Code a mere two years earlier.)
The directorial style transitions are further affected by the movie's stunning opening logging sequence, which in turn was directed by Hawks' longtime Second Unit man, Richard Rosson, and photographed by the great Gregg Toland. MGM's print is very clean, and the logging scenes are truly amazing; coupled with grand, docu-drama shots, kinetic editing, and booming sound effects, Hawks and Rosson turned the raping of a natural resource - a core theme in Ferber's book - into a thrilling tribute to the industrialization of Nature.
The DVD's sadly low on any production history, but "Come and Get It" (the title ultimately synchronizes to the father's final moment of melodramatic schadenfreude) makes for a fascinating oddity in directorial careers of Hawks and Wyler. Several of the film's talent were only a few years away from establishing their positions as top stars, and Walter Brennan's characterization as "Swede" also immortalized the ridiculous phrase, "Yumpin' Yimminee!"
© 2005 Mark R. Hasan