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The Home Maker (1925)


The Home Maker (1925) Universal Pictures. Director: King Baggot. Scenario: Mary O'Hara. Photography: John Stumar. Cast: Alice Joyce, Clive Brook, Billy Kent Schaeffer, George Fawcett, Virginia Boardman, Maurice Murphy, Jacqueline Wells, Frank Newburg, Margaret Campbell, Martha Mattox, Alfred Fisher, Alice Flower, Elaine Ellis. 8 reels, 7,755 ft.

A copy of this film is located the UCLA Film and Television Archives. It is a 35mm copy blown up from 16mm, patched together from two prints. Note that while Variety gives the running time as 70 minutes, the Pacific Film Archives estimated the running time as 85 minutes. Did the Variety reviewer see a shorter print or was it run that much faster?



Three lobby cards for the film (thanks to Derek Boothroyd for all of these scans)
A Universal publicity still and a scene from the film
A herald for the film

Review from Variety
Review from Moving Picture World
Viewing Comments
Further reading




Review from Variety, August 12 1925

The Home Maker

Universal production directed by King Baggot, Featuring Alice Joyce and Clive Brook. From the novel of the same name by Dorothy Canfield. Continuity by Mary O'Hara. Photographed by John Stumar. At the Colony, New York, week Aug. 9. Run time about 70 min.

Eva Knapp Alice Joyce
Lester Knapp Clive Brook
Stephen Billy Kent Schaeffer
Henry Maurice Murphy
Helen Jacqueline Wells
Harvey Bronson Frank Newburg
Dr. Merritt George Fawcett
Aunt Mattie Farnum Margaret Campbell
Mrs. Anderson Martha Mattox
John (Janitor) Alfred Fisher
Miss West Alice Flowers
Mrs. Prouty Virginia Boardman
Nelly Prouty Elaine Ellis
Mrs. Hennessy Mary Gordon
Mr. Willings Lloyd Whitlock

As a study of middle-class domestic life there are moments when "The Home Maker " almost reaches the heights of greatness. Unfortunately, the general impression handicapped by one thing or another, is only that of one more average feature picture. King Baggot's direction is thorough and workmanlike, but it is not human nor understanding enough to give the story the tremendous wallop it might have had. Perhaps had the plot not been so typically American, one of the highly touted foreign realistic directors might have done something big with it.

Miss Canfield is a novelist of almost distinguished reputation, and although "The Home Maker" is not one of her most popular books it has been highly praised by many as a searching study of family life. A husband and wife are central figures. Both are failures in their respective life tasks, chiefly because they detest the work allotted to them. He is an impractical dreamer to whom office work is unbearable while she, though she keeps her home meticulously neat, cannot, with any efficiency, control the whims and tantrums of her three youngsters. Consequently near-poverty and unhappiness reign in the home, a circumstance delicately hinted when the two older children are shown taking the longest way home from school.

Finally the father loses his job and decides that suicide is the only way out. But even in this he is a dub and paralysis of the legs is the result. The wife has to support the family and in the business world her initiative and efficiency bring her success and happiness. Her husband on the other hand has found comfort and enjoyment in the company of his children and books and the ease of a life at home. The kids, too, are allowed to do as they please and become better youngsters because of it.

Then comes the genuine O. Henry twist. One night a curtain catches fire and in extinguishing the blaze the father discovers that under the stress of fear and excitement he has recovered the use of his legs. But realizing that such a condition means a return to the boredom and dissatisfaction of the old days he swears the friendly old doctor to secrecy and returns to the wheel chair for the rest of the life.

There is a good deal of delving into child psychology and it is here the picture gets definitely on the wrong track. Entirely too much of the " 'ou wouldn't let 'em wash my teddy bear, would 'ou" type of stuff that makes much of the action seem either ridiculous or boresome. Incidentally an overdose of sub-titles give a talky effect to a film that otherwise leaves quite a bit to the imagination.

It would seem an error was made in the placing the roles of this distinctly middle-class couple in the hands of such patrician looking types as Alice Joyce and Clive Brook. Considering this limitation, however, both do excellently. Brook's performance in those scenes in which he discovers with mingled joy and dread that his legs are not worthless will rank as one of the best of its kind. Little Billy Kent Schaeffer as the youngest and most unmanageable of the children supplies the acting that will be most talked about, doing wonders with a role that is more genuinely nasty and irritating than cute and appealing. George Fawcett and Martha Mattox head a supporting cast of capable character actors.

"The Home Makers," [sic] then, is a serious effort at domestic naturalism There will be a certain number of people who will think it splendid in a quiet and yet forceful way. They do not promise, however, to be numerous enough to make the picture a real box office attraction. That goes particularly for its commercial chances at the Colony this week, with Broadway providing all sorts of important opposition in the "Greater Movie Season" line.



Review from Moving Picture World, August 8, 1925


"The Home Maker"
Universal produces, With Alice Joyce and Clive Brook, One of the Finest Pictures Ever Made
Reviewed by Sumner Smith.

"The Home Maker," with Alice Joyce and Clive Brook, will be an outstanding picture of the coming season. Exhibitors will throw their hats in the air and cheer when they see its effect upon their audiences, for in addition to its unquestionable box-office value, it is the sort of clean, wholesome, gripping domestic drama which will do the reputation of the whole industry a world of good. Universal has been making some fine pictures lately and "The Home Maker" will be near the top of the White List, if it doesn't lead them all.

This is a box-office picture par excellence for all audiences. It is hard to conceive an audience that will dislike it. The drama is simply done but so tense and absorbing in its import that it will hold the eyes glued to the screen. Women will eat it up, and cry, and men will like it fully as well as the women, for it does man no injustice by putting woman on an unscalable pinnacle.

"The Home Maker's" many points of interest--and its wonderful exploitation angles--may be analyzed without a single justifiable criticism except that of length, and on that point there is ample ground for argument. The general opinion of reviewers who sat enthralled throughout its 7,755 feet was that it might be cut a few hundred feet, but nobody insisted that eliminations were imperative. Possibly the critics couldn't believe that here was a picture which couldn't be criticized. Oh, yes, one or two of the subtitles are too flowery.

King Baggot is responsible for "The Home Maker" and Universal owes him a flock of congratulatory telegrams and a museum of medals.

The picture is really wonderful in the simplicity of its story and settings and acting. It is a perfect emotional unit from start to finish. An accident in which the husband is crippled and a fire threatening loss of life might have been over-stressed, but they have been carefully subordinated to the telling of the story.

"The Home Maker" opens with scenes of ordinary domestic routine. The wife is performing her daily work stopping only to reprove the children. In this role Alice Joyce is perfect. She does the ordinary things which we see done from day to day, does them simply and naturally, yet rivets attention on herself. The same is true for Clive Brook. These two accomplished artists--may their tribe increase--bring a wealth of humanity to the picture that assures the utmost in realism. We cannot for the moment recall any picture which is so real as "The Home Maker."

While the entire cast does expert work, two other members deserve especial mention. Martha Maddox is superb as a sour-faced, dyspeptic old maid. Her work is restrained like that of the others, but remarkably effective. The other players? Say, you must see little Billy Kent Schaffer. In this picture he ranks with Jackie Coogan, not as Jackie is now, an experienced actor, but as he was when about Billy's age--four years. Little Billy is called upon to sulk and he does it in such delightfully realistic fashion that women's arms will go out toward him; he is called upon to smile and there was never a more winning baby seen on the screen.

In closing, a word about the exploitation angles of this picture. They are there--big and self-evident. The wife takes the husband's place as the wage-earner, having failed to inspire happy children; the husband, a business failure, succeeds in the home. In the end, smiles replace scowls on the children's faces and there is joy.

Don't fail to book this picture. It will please your patrons as few pictures have done; it will do your prestige as a theatre owner untold good. Book it, boost it, get the clergy to see it, for they will preach about it, and you'll live in the hope that the gods will be kind and give you another picture just as good sometime in the not too distant future.

Cast.
Eva Knapp Alice Joyce
Lester Knapp Clive Brook
Stephen Billy Kent Schaffer
Henry Maurice Murphy
Helen Jacqueline Wells
Harvey Bronson Frank Newburg
Dr. Merritt George Fawcett
Aunt Mattie Farnum Margaret Campbell
Mrs. Anderson Martha Mattox
John (Janitor) Alfred Fisher
Miss West Alice Flowers
Mrs. Prouty Virginia Boardman
Molly Prouty Elaine Ellis
Mrs. Hennessy Mary Gordon
Mr. Willings Lloyd Whitlock

Adapted by Mary O'Hara from Dorothy Canfield's story of the same name.
Directed by King Baggot.
Photographed by John Stumar.
Length, 7,755 feet.

Story
Lester Knapp fails to obtain promotion in the office of his department store. He hates the work. Eva Knapp, his wife, hates housework, knowing herself to be fitted for greater things. An accident cripples Lester. He stays in the home. Eva works in the store. Lester makes the children happy. Eva had misunderstood them and they had resented her efficiency. One day as he sleeps Eva sees his legs move. To her that symbolizes a return to drudgery in the home, but she calls a physician. Lester begs him to tell Eva that he is still crippled, arguing that the time has not arrived for him to walk. The doctor agrees and there is no rift in the family happiness.

[In January 1926 Moving Picture World ran a photo of Brook in wheelchair looking at Joyce, who has her hand on his shoulder. Caption: THE HOME MAKER" brings out the power of Alice Joyce's charm and Clive Brooks' ability. Universal will show you.]



Viewing comments

This is a wonderfully sensitive and sympathetic film about two good people trapped by society into roles that don't suit them. This may be Joyce's finest performance. Instead of her much vaunted serenity, we find her quietly desperate as a super efficient housewife who has terrorized her husband and children with her strict household management and tense emotional state. And we see her blossom into a confident and relaxed woman when she is forced to apply her abilities to the outside world that better suits her intelligence and interests. Her performance is matched by another reticent actor, Clive Brook, as the dyspeptic and ineffectual office worker who finds his true calling while wheelchair bound at home with the children (though admittedly, he doesn't have to do the housework). George Fawcett huffs and puffs as the doctor shocked by their role reversal. The child actors, who include Jacqueline Wells (later Julie Bishop), are also excellent in difficult roles. A really special film.
Print viewed: 35mm print from the UCLA Film and Television Archives, screened at the Stanford Theater and at the Pacific Film Archives.



Further Readings

More information on this film can be found in the following source:

Higashi, Sumiko, Virgins, Vamps and Flappers. Montreal: Eden Press, c1978, p. 159-160.






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Last revised August 27, 2012