“I never had no great hankering to be awful rich and have a carriage and all.”
A poverty-stricken mother (Pauline Lord) whose husband (Donald Meek) has abandoned their family to seek gold in the Klondike is assisted by a kind-hearted editor (Kent Taylor) and his wealthy sweetheart (Evelyn Venable); meanwhile, Mrs. Wiggs’ spinster friend (Zasu Pitts) pursues a mail-order husband (W.C. Fields) who demands excellent cooking from his would-be wife.
Based on a 1901 novel by Alice Hegan Rice, this simple tale of an eternally optimistic woman raising six children in the midst of poverty manages to transcend its inherent cliches — most notably an evil landowner (Charles Middleton) itching to throw Mrs. Wiggs and her brood out onto the street — and emerge as a sweet little melodrama with a surprising amount of humor. While stage actress Pauline Lord relies a bit too heavily on affectations (such as casting her eyes up to the heavens while speaking), she’s well suited to play Mrs. Wiggs, and nicely embodies her saintly patience. The more difficult aspects of Mrs. Wiggs’ travails (including providing a Thanksgiving meal for her brood, and dealing with a gravely sick son) are mediated by several truly heartwarming vignettes of good will on the part of Taylor and Venable, who do what they can to help out the Wiggs family; my favorite scene (captured below in a still) has Taylor bluffing while purchasing five theater tickets for Mrs. Wiggs and her brood in exchange for a cartload of wood from young Bill Wiggs (Jimmy Butler). W.C. Fields shows up in a bit role near the end of the film, as a mail-order husband who makes poor Zasu Pitts tremble with anxiety over her lack of cooking ability; his cameo is most enjoyable, and makes up for the film’s somewhat disappointing denouement.
P.S. Click here to read Rice’s original novel online at Project Gutenberg.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Pauline Lord as Mrs. Wiggs
- W.C. Fields as Ellsworth Stubbins
- A genuinely heartwarming tale
No, but it’s worth a look if you stumble upon it.