Cast & Crew
In a small Indiana town in 1919, Paul Ward, a science instructor, is trying to invent something that will make enough money to provide his wife Marcia, daughter Sally and a new baby with some luxuries. Into this household wanders Hannah Parmalee, who obtains a job as the family cook and housekeeper. Hannah believes in the Christian philosophy that advises an injured person to turn the other cheek. Peter Trimble, one of the boys who attends the school where Paul teaches, is the son of the richest man in town. He is also a whiz at science, and after Hannah suggests that Paul set a good example for the boy, he asks Peter to help him. Sally develops a schoolgirl's crush on Peter. Together Paul and Peter perfect an iceless icebox. Peter accidentally lets the town mechanics, Joe and Bill Ellis, see the invention, and after the brothers steal it, they patent it. Peter feels so bad about this that he lies when Paul asks him about it. In the meantime, Sally develops pneumonia. Hannah persuades Paul to give Peter another chance and he develops a new and better feature for the icebox. Sally recovers and leaves on a trip with Marcia and the baby. Hannah faces her own crisis when Thomas Bradford, a wealthy Chicagoan, visits to discuss financing the invention. She reveals to Paul that Peter is her son and Bradford is his father. An unwed mother, she was forced to give up the baby, and Sam Trimble adopted him after his own baby died. When Bradford learns that Peter is his son, he wants to claim him, but Hannah persuades him to leave Peter where he is. Soon after, she leaves the Wards, and is secure in the knowledge that Peter is in good hands.
J. Farrell Mcdonald
Leo F. Forbstein
Oliver S. Garretson
C. A. Meller
Jack L. Warner
Publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst discovered Douglas' story and printed it in his Cosmopolitan magazine, then bought the rights for his Cosmopolitan Pictures, housed at Warners. Not that Douglas was a gamble. Film versions of his Magnificent Obsession (1935) and Green Light (1937) had already proven successful with their mix of old-fashioned romance and Christian spiritualism (Lloyd would also write the novel The Robe, which became a big-screen blockbuster in 1953). But this tale of a middle-aged inventor and the mysterious housekeeper who inspires him to create a new refrigerator was something of a long shot. The story required older actors, the type usually relegated to supporting roles. Just the year before Paramount had gone bust with Leo McCarey's Make Way for Tomorrow (1937), a haunting tale of an aging married couple demoralized by low income and their children's insensitivity. Not since Marie Dressler's death a few years earlier had audiences flocked to support a film focusing almost entirely on characters who were well beyond middle age.
Fortunately for Hearst, he produced his films at Warner Bros., a studio with a reputation for keeping budgets low while maintaining solid craftsmanship -- though in this case it should be termed "craftswomanship." The film's writing team included Lenore J. Coffee, one of the screen's best scribes, who had started her career in films in 1919. She had already crafted solid vehicles for such female stars as Vilma Banky (The Winning of Barbara Worth, 1926), Gloria Swanson (The Love of Sunya, 1927), Joan Crawford (Possessed, 1931), Myrna Loy (Evelyn Prentice, 1934) and Jean Harlow (Suzy, 1936). Better than almost anyone in Hollywood she knew how to keep the focus on the plight of a frustrated mother (years earlier the housekeeper had given up her child, now the inventor's assistant, for adoption) in order to insure the audience's emotional involvement.
Hearst also was lucky in the film's director. Originally the story had been offered to William Dieterle, a German ¿gr¿ho had worked his way up to such prestigious projects as The Story of Louis Pasteur (1935) and The Life of Emile Zola (1937). He was still smarting over the fact that he had lost the assignment to direct Jezebel (1938) to William Wyler (who wasn't even a contract director at Warners) so he turned it down and eventually left the studio in 1940. Instead, the film went to one of Hollywood's best directors of women, Edmund Goulding. He had done magic with Greta Garbo in the silent Love (1927) and the all-star classic Grand Hotel (1932), but his reputation for working slowly and going over budget had caused problems at MGM. Goulding had started his Warner's tenure with a minor soap opera, That Certain Woman (1937), but had done so well directing Bette Davis that he would soon become one of the studio's top directors.
The icing on the cake was the choice of actors for the starring roles. Claude Rains was a natural for the kindly inventor. He had been one of Warner Bros.' chief assets since 1936, moving effortlessly from villainous roles like Prince John in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) to kindlier types like the father in Four Daughters (1938). In White Banners, he maintained top form whether sweating over his inventions or lending a sympathetic ear to his housekeeper's tearful confession.
Few Hollywood actresses could have played the latter role without making it tiresomely maudlin, but then, in 1938, Fay Bainter wasn't really considered a Hollywood actress. White Banners was only her sixth film. And though she had made her screen debut in 1934, she hadn't really committed to the move to films until 1937, when she effortlessly stole Quality Street from its nominal star, Katharine Hepburn. Bainter had been on stage since 1899, when she was only five. She had gone from child star to ing¿e to Broadway leading lady and had recently won acclaim with one of her first older-woman roles, as Walter Huston's vain, capricious wife in the stage adaptation of Dodsworth. With Rains, she helped make White Banners into solid entertainment. As a result, she won an Oscar® nomination for Best Actress of 1938.
That alone was hardly the stuff history was made of. But Bainter's previous film that year, Jezebel, brought her another Oscar® nomination, for Best Supporting Actress, making her the first actor to win nominations in two different categories in the same year. When she won for her supporting role, she set a precedent that would be followed by Teresa Wright and Jessica Lange in years to come. Bainter's early film success kept her in character leads for a few years. Then she made the mistake of signing with MGM, where she was consigned to playing mothers and older friends of their more glamorous, younger leading ladies for years. It took a return to the stage in the touring company of Long Day's Journey Into Night to remind audiences that Bainter was still -- and always had been -- a great actress.
Producer: Henry Blanke, Hal B. Wallis
Director: Edmund Goulding
Screenplay: Lenore J. Coffee, Lloyd C. Douglas (story), Cameron Rogers, Abem Finkel
Cinematography: Charles Rosher
Film Editing: Thomas Richards
Art Direction: John Hughes
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: Claude Rains (Paul Ward), Fay Bainter (Hannah Parmalee), Jackie Cooper (Peter Trimble), Bonita Granville (Sally Ward), Henry O'Neill (Sam Trimble), Kay Johnson (Marcia Ward).
BW-92m. Closed Captioning.
by Frank Miller
You don't think I have a fighting chance!- Paul Ward
I don't think you have a chance, fighting!- Hannah
Lloyd Douglas' novel first appeared in Hearst's International-Cosmopolitan. Fay Bainter received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her role in White Banners and received the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Warner Bros.' Jezebel the same year. This was the first time an actress was nominated in both categories.
Released in United States 1938
Released in United States 1938