“What have we done to life that we should be mistreated?”
A young couple (Margaret Sullavan and Douglass Montgomery) expecting their first child struggle to survive in the harsh economic climate of 1930s Germany.
Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “fine, very unusual film” by director Frank Borzage is both “a strong argument for love” and “one of the few films of the era to depict the plight of the indigent lumpen proletariat”. Although it’s set in Germany, Little Man — like Borzage’s later Mortal Storm (1940) — is a Hollywood sound-stage film all the way, with stylized sets and all-American actors; as a result, the story is more of a romantic fable than a realist drama, and its themes of love and survival emerge as universal. Despite its decidedly downbeat timbre and some bitingly harsh scenes, the script is surprisingly humorous, and contains several unexpectedly risque sequences — beginning with an implication at the beginning of the film that Hans and pregnant Lammchen aren’t actually married yet. Sullavan and Montgomery (a sensitive actor) are well-cast as the young lovers, and Alan Hale is delightful in an unexpectedly nuanced role as Sullavan’s would-be pursuer (“I will establish you, young woman… I will establish you — firmly“).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Wide-eyed Margaret Sullavan as ‘Lammchen’ (Peary nominates her for an Alternate Oscar as Best Actress of the Year)
- Douglass Montgomery as Hans
- Alan Hale as Herr Jachman
- Several refreshingly risque, seemingly “pre-Code” scenes
- The genuinely sweet romance between Hans and Lammchen
- Effectively stylized sets
Yes, as one of Borzage’s most affecting films. Click here to read more about Borzage and his work.