Cast & Crew
One morning, Harry Moulton Pulham, Jr. a Back Bay Bostonian who leads an orderly life, receives a call from former Harvard classmate Rodney "Bo Jo" Brown, who is organzing their twenty-fifth year college reunion. The overbearing Bo Jo gives Harry the assignment of compiling the class biographies, and as Harry begins, he thinks of his own proper Bostonian upbringing. The next day, Harry gets an unexpected call from Marvin Myles, now Mrs. John Ransome, a woman whom he had loved more than twenty years ago. She asks to meet him for a drink that afternoon, but when he sees how beautiful she still is, he cannot approach her. Reasoning that he is as happy as any average man could hope to be, Harry then orders roses for Marvin, and takes a gardenia home to his wife, Kay Motford Pulham, whom he met in dancing school. He then takes the dog for a walk and wonders if he ever really was happy: At Harvard, Harry is friendly with worldly Bill King. After graduation, Harry goes into the army during World War I, is decorated for bravery and impresses his men for not "wearing lace drawers." After the war, he meets Bill in New York, because he doesn't feel like going home, and Bill gets him a job at the advertising company at which he works. There Harry meets Marvin, who is a copy writer. Harry is puzzled by the independent and ambitious Marvin, who is different from the women in Boston. When Harry goes home one weekend, he and Marvin realize that they are in love with each other. Harry then determines to marry her, even though his mother, Mary, is in ill health and his father, Harry, Sr., does not understand his son's new life in New York. Marvin does not want to marry right away and is concerned over the differences in their backgrounds. When Harry gets word that his father is dying, he rushes home and is begged by Harry, Sr. to stay in Boston with the family. While business affairs force him to stay on in Boston after his father's death, Harry yearns for Marvin, and when Mary suggests that he invite Bill up for a few days, Harry invites Marvin as well. Marvin feels out of place in Boston, especially as Harry has not told his mother of their relationship. Meanwhile, Bill flirts with Kay, to whom he has always been attracted, but who is now engaged to fellow Harvard man Joe Bingham. After Kay suddenly breaks her engagement, Harry advises Joe to have a showdown with her and decides that he must do the same with Marvin, who has returned to New York. He goes to her and says that they will marry the next day and live in Boston "for a little while," but she refuses because she hates Boston's stifling atmosphere and fears that she would be destroyed by a lack of independence. Realizing that he belongs at home, Harry leaves Marvin, who promises always to wait for him if he wants to come back. Some time later, Kay, whose relationship with Bill never developed, calls Harry. Finding that they are very much alike, they soon fall in love and marry. The day after Harry's reminiscences, his life seems to be in a state of disorder and he implores Kay to go away with him right away. She dismisses his talk of love and happiness and sends him off to the office, to which he is late for the first time in his life. Marvin then calls and he asks to come to her hotel. There they kiss, have champagne and dance, then realize that everything is the same between them, even their differences. After leaving Marvin, Harry returns to the office and finds Kay waiting outside. Although Kay is hurt that Harry has seen Marvin, she wants to go away with him and says that they have always loved each other, since their first day in dancing school. Knowing that Kay is right, he happily drives away with her.
Mary Lou Harrington
Oliver B. Prickett
Harold F. Kress
Edwin B. Willis
H. M. Pulham, Esq.
Robert Young's opening narration in H.M. Pulham, Esq.
The poet laureate of the working class, director King Vidor raised his sights socially for H.M. Pulham, Esq., his 1941 adaptation of J.P Marquand's novel about a Boston blue blood tempted to leave his wife as he looks back on the choices that have made him society's idea of a success. Still haunted by memories of the working-class woman he would have married had his father not interfered, he attempts a reunion that could change his life forever. Vidor brought to the story the same trenchant social commentary that had marked such classics of his as The Crowd (1928) and Our Daily Bread (1934), while also demonstrating a rare grace in penetrating his leading character's smug exterior.
Vidor had scored a big hit with his adaptation of the historical epic Northwest Passage (1940) when he and wife Elizabeth Hill took on this adaptation of Marquand's novel. He was attracted by the idea of man trying to re-capture a lost love, something he had once attempted himself. The book had been a best seller, a successful serial in McCall's Magazine and a Reader's Digest condensed book; MGM estimated that more than 5 million people had read it. Nonetheless, Vidor had trouble casting the male lead. Both Gary Cooper and James Stewart turned him down, leading him to offer the role to Robert Young, a solid professional but hardly a star. To make the picture's marquee more attractive, studio executives insisted he cast Viennese sexpot Hedy Lamarr as Marvin Myles, the Iowa farm girl Young loves and leaves so he can marry within his class. Since Lamarr's accent was far from Iowa, Vidor inserted a line in which she explains that her family had emigrated from Europe to the Midwest. Vidor would later state that he should have cast an American actress in the role. His dream choice in retrospect would have been Shirley MacLaine, although she was still more than a decade away from film stardom when he made the picture.
Marquand came to Hollywood to advise Vidor and Hill on the screenplay, delighting them with his dry wit and keen observation of class distinctions. One day Vidor took him to lunch in the MGM commissary where a studio executive interrupted them to ask, "What is this H.M.S. Pulham about, an over-age destroyer?" Nonplussed, Marquand simply replied, "Yes, by God, it is."
Vidor's inventiveness with the camera was already legendary when he made H.M. Pulham, Esq.. For a scene establishing Young's daily routine, he shot a series of close-ups of hands, feet -- everything but the actor's face. Although the script called for the sequence to play against a clock's ticking, he actually used a metronome to keep the beat perfectly. The film is also the first to present a phone conversation as it would be heard in real life and use undistorted voice-overs while one character is reading another's letter. Previously sound editors had used distortion in both cases.
For Young and Lamarr's failed reunion Vidor drew on the experience that had sparked his initial interest in the story. While he had been writing the script for his silent classic The Big Parade (1925), he looked up a woman he had almost married during his youth in Texas. Years later, she seemed like a different person -- rough, crude and common; nothing like the girl he once knew. In the film, Young and Lamarr's reunion is proceeding well until she reveals a side of herself that shows how much the years have hardened her.
H.M. Pulham, Esq. brought Vidor some of his best reviews since his silent classics. It also won praise for Young and Charles Coburn, who played his father, with both named among the best actors of the year by the National Board of Review. Lamarr's notices were more mixed. Although some critics hailed the performance as her most energetic in years, others complained that she was woefully miscast. In later years, she would cite Marvin as her favorite among all her characters. Co-star Ruth Hussey, who played Young's wife, received strong reviews, though some critics thought she was too attractive in the part and that Lamarr, one of the screen's most glamorous stars, could not pose a believable threat to her marriage.
Producer-Director: King Vidor
Screenplay: Vidor & Elizabeth Hill
Based on the Novel by John P. Marquand
Cinematography: Ray June
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Malcolm Brown
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Cast: Hedy Lamarr (Marvin Myles), Robert Young (Harry Pulham), Ruth Hussey (Kay Motford), Charles Coburn (Mr. Pulham, Sr.), Van Heflin (Bill King), Fay Holden (Mrs. Pulham), Bonita Granville (Mary Pulham), Leif Erickson (Rodney "Bo-Jo" Brown), Sara Haden (Miss Rollo), Connie Gilchrist (Tillie), Frank Faylen (Sergeant), Anne Revere (Miss Redfern), John Raitt (Soldier), Ava Gardner (Girl). BW-120m. Closed captioning.
by Frank Miller
H. M. Pulham, Esq.
John P. Marquand's novel was serialized as Gone Tomorrow in McCall's magazine (Sep 1940-January 1941). According to M-G-M publicity materials, Marquand's novel sold over 200,000 copies within the first six months of publication. Frank Sullivan is credited with editing on several Hollywood Reporter production charts, but only Harold F. Kress is credited on the film and in reviews. According to a July 3, 1941 Hollywood Reporter news item, actor Lew Ayres was tested for a role in the film, presumably that of "Bill King." A 28 July Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Herbert Marshall was at one time set for the title role in the picture. Most reviews singled out the performance of Hedy Lamarr and called it the best of her career. Modern sources include Ava Gardner in the cast, but she was not identifiable in the viewed print. An Hollywood Reporter news item on August 1, 1941 noted that Gardner "a model," had just been signed by M-G-M. If she did appear as an extra in H. H. Pulham, Esq., it May have been her debut film.