Cast & Crew
Inventor Frederick Smith's wife dies during the birth of their fourth baby, Ronnie, leaving the family in the care of their faithful housekeeper Emma. Twenty years later, after Smith's inventions have made the family rich, the affable Ronnie, who is Emma's favorite, arrives home from college, announcing that he wants to quite school and become a flier. The other Smith children, Bill, Gypsy and Isabelle, have all grown into spoiled adults, but Emma lovingly indulges them all, making excuses for their bad behavior to their father and everyone else. As Emma leaves for her first vacation in thirty-two years with the family, the absent-minded Frederick sadly takes her to the station. She gets cold feet and decides to stay home, but Frederick won't let her and decides to go along with her to Niagara Falls. Waiting for their train, Frederick proposes and Emma accepts, even though she is afraid that people will talk. When the children learn about the marriage, Ronnie is happy for them, but the other children are embarrassed by the blot on their social record. On their honeymoon, as the happy Frederick and Emma row on the lake, they are teased by some young vacationers, prompting Frederick to take the oars from Emma. The exertion causes a mild heart attack and they return home. As the contented Frederick listens to Emma sing to him, he dies, and a short time later, the family learns that he has left his entire estate to Emma. Though Emma wants to give the money back to the children, all of them except Ronnie turn on her and threaten to prove that their father was crazy when he wrote the will. Emma throws them out and awaits the lawsuit they threaten while the loyal Ronnie goes to Canada for a flying assignment. Because the will cannot be broken, the children go to the district attorney to have him bring murder charges against Emma, using distorted testimony by Mathilda, the maid. When Ronnie hears about the trial, he desperately flies East to help Emma but is killed while flying through a dangerous storm. Even though her life is in peril, she won't allow her kind attorney, Haskins, to defamate the character or motives of the children. Her emotional plea for them in court results in her acquittal, but Emma's relief is ruined when she learns of Ronnie's death. A short time later, Emma gives all of the money to the children, telling Haskins that she hopes that now they will think better of her. After she sadly views Ronnie's body, Isabell, Bill and Gypsy beg her forgiveness and want her to stay with them, but she refuses, saying that her work with them is finished, but no matter what happens or where they all are, they will still belong together. At a new position, Emma happily attends a doctor's large family and is pleased when the wife agrees to name her new baby Ronnie at Emma's request.
Purnell B. Pratt
Oliver T. Marsh
The road to movie stardom was a long and rocky one for Dressler. She had been a vaudeville headliner at the turn of the century. Her first film, Tillie's Punctured Romance (1914), co-starring Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand, was an adaptation of Dressler's stage hit. In the 1920's, her career foundered, and she was nearly destitute until her friend, screenwriter Frances Marion, got her back into movies in 1927. Dressler won an Academy Award® as Best Actress for the tragicomedy, Min and Bill (1930), and Emma (1932) which was also a drama, earned her another Oscar® nomination.
Emma is a typical Dressler character -- earthy and maternal, she becomes the housekeeper for the family of widower Jean Hersholt, and raises a bunch of ungrateful brats who resent her when she marries their father. By all accounts, Dressler was as generous and kind-hearted as the character she played. Two young actresses in the cast never forgot her thoughtfulness.
Child actress Dawn O'Day had played one of Dressler's children in The Callahans and the Murphys (1927). By 1932, O'Day was going through an awkward age, and was having trouble getting work. Thanks to Dressler, she was cast in Emma as young Isabelle. O'Day later changed her name to Anne Shirley and had a successful adult acting career.
Myrna Loy was a brand-new contract player at MGM, and she hoped the studio would offer her a new start, a change from all the oriental femme fatales and other unsympathetic female characters she'd been playing. Instead, her role as the grown-up Isabelle in Emma was yet another spoiled rich girl. Not only that, but the studio had Loy working on three films at once, running from set to set changing only wigs and costumes. Dressler, who had had her share of career disappointments, noticed Loy's disillusionment. "Get your chin up, kid," Dressler advised her. "You've got the whole world ahead of you." How right she was. That same year, Loy was loaned to Paramount for what would become her breakthrough role - the droll, man-hungry Valentine in Love Me Tonight (1932). Recalling Dressler, Loy would later write in her autobiography, "She was a delight, a lovely woman, high-spirited and caring. I was crazy about her. She inspired awe, too, with her robust presence and extraordinary achievements! In her sixties, she'd returned from near oblivion to become the movies' biggest box office draw, beloved as few stars ever have been. It seemed that she'd go on forever." Sadly, Marie Dressler died of cancer, just two years and four films after making Emma.
Director/Producer: Clarence Brown
Screenplay: Leonard Praskins, Zelda Sears, based on a story by Frances Marion
Editor: William LeVanway
Cinematography: Oliver T. Marsh
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Principal Cast: Marie Dressler (Emma), Richard Cromwell (Ronnie), Jean Hersholt (Mr. Smith), Myrna Loy (Isabelle), John Miljan (District Attorney).
BW-72m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri
Stop calling me beautiful!- Emma
According to a news item in Hollywood Reporter, the prologue to the story, about the birth of "Ronnie," was shot and added to the picture after M-G-M executives saw the thought-to-be complete product in late November 1931. Marie Dressler received an Academy Award nomination for her performance in the film.