Director: Edmund Goulding. Cast: Claude Rains, Fay Bainter, Jackie Cooper, Kay Johnson, Bonita Granville, Henry O'Neill,
James Stephenson, J. Farrell MacDonald, Edward McWade, William Pawley, Edward Pawley, John Ridgley, Mary Field.
Screenplay: Lenore J. Coffee, Cameron Rogers, and Abem Finkel (based on the Cosmopolitan magazine article by Lloyd C.
A sacrificial-mother melodrama, a primer in small-town values, and a quite literally illustrated crash course in the sciences
of refrigeration and coffee percolation: White Banners is such an improbable meld of dissimilar elements, united only in their quaint anachronism
as subjects for the screen, that it's hard not to like the picture strictly in light of its pursuing such a smilingly odd path.
"Adapted from the Cosmopolitan Magazine Article" is not a screenplay credit you see every day, nor would you expect
something quite this modest, in all senses of the word, to emerge from such a history. The strenuous and conspicuously placed
disclaimer that White Banners bears no relation to any persons living or dead, etc. etc., seems built to forestall
comparison to whatever real-life inventor decided that iceboxes shouldn't need drip pans, and whatever household of
stout-hearted servants, nervous wives, precocious children, and adopted local miscreants he may or may not have belonged to.
I wonder, though, if the safeguard is necessary. Under the typically assured and generous direction of Edmund Goulding, the
whole cast performs in such a way that you'd love to see your family, your work, your hometown represented this way. Claude
Rains, cast in the wholly unfamiliar role of the jocular family-man, is as relaxed and winning as Bette Davis in Dark
Victory, Goulding's triumph of the following year. Fay Bainter (Jezebel, Show
Boat), another supporting-cast fixture enjoying a rare turn
in the spotlight, was Oscar-nominated for her role as the unknown but eminently trustable housekeeper Hannah, who shows up
at the Ward family's doorstep one morning and pertly makes good on the promise of their name. But this
family's ward quickly reveals herself as the wind beneath their wings. Hannah is the explicit source
of the movie's unabashedly frank philosophies of giving, adapting, extending second chances, and taking the high road, but
Bainter's smart underplaying of Hannah's goodness protects both the character and the film from our resentment. She also
makes room for Rains and Jackie Cooper, as a smart but spoiled teenager, to emerge as the real centers of the movie, profiting
from her wise advice without seeming like mere test cases for her homespun theses. Even the technical crew offer calmer,
easier work than usual, including a bouncy and unobtrusive score by Max Steiner and some lucid but unremarkable photography
from Charles Rosher (Sunrise). The proud but humble contributions of everyone involved obviously
reflect that White Banners is minor Warner Bros., but the film exemplifies its own themes of honest diligence and
warm-hearted communalism, making it much more memorable than some grander, fussier productions of the same period. Remember
when simple, inexpensive, knockoff pictures were a pleasure in themselves? When family movies were quiet, people-centered,
and unafraid of genuine emotion? If you've forgotten that they could be, or if you never knew it possible, try this on for