Ameche, Young, and Fonda tell... The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1939)
I'm forced to do things a little differently than I normally would with a review because my laptop's disk drive is acting up and I haven't been able to get the screenshots that typically accompany my posts -- it's a real shame and I hate that I wasn't able to capture the shots that I would love to share with you all, but my laptop just isn't budging. So, I apologize for the lack of great photos, but hopefully you didn't come here strictly for the close-ups of Ameche and Young (although I definitely wouldn't blame you if that was your main purpose). With that disclaimer over, let's get to the film!
Mabel was deaf after contracting scarlet fever at age five, but she wasn't a mute -- she had learned how to read lips, which Young does in the film, and could speak in many languages. Bell took her on as a student when she was fifteen and they were married in 1877 until his death in 1922. Bell's work with the deaf is what steered him towards experimenting with hearing devices until he finally patented the telephone in 1876. From what I can tell, Story is largely faithful to the truth with only slight changes that don't really make a difference, probably because Bell's daughter had final approval on the script. If I make any assumptions that anyone would like to correct, please do so (kindly!) in the comments and I'll amend it.
George is portrayed by Bobs Watson, one of the cutest little child actors classic Hollywood had. Anyway, Mr. Sanders brings his friend Gardner Hubbard (Charles Coburn) to the boarding house to see Alec's progress; Hubbard is a businessman who will hopefully finance Alec so George's chances of learning to speak are much more increased. Hubbard is impressed and wants Alec to take on his daughter Mabel as a pupil, ignoring Alec's protests that he's too busy with George and working on his telegraph.
A year passes until a breakthrough happens, allowing Alec to propose to Mabel. After enduring setbacks and the disapproval of Mr. Hubbard, Alec is ready to give up on the telephone until Mabel tells him that she won't marry him if he stops his work. More months go by and eventually the telephone comes to fruition, and the couple marries. In the movie's final act, Alec's patent is challenged by a company that is backed by Western Union. Alec sues them for infringement and the case goes to trial, with the prosecution brutally attacking him. Mabel is able to prove that Alec came up with the telephone first, and Western Union admits defeat while also offering to go into business with him. The film ends with Alec excitedly relating to Mabel his ideas for getting man to fly.
Later in the film is where we find the second scene. Poverty stricken, Alec and Watson are gratified to be invited to spend Christmas with the Sanders family. Sadness quickly overwhelms their happiness when a group of children sing carols outside one of the windows, reminding Mr. Sanders that his own son cannot join those children. The look on his face inspires Alec to bring George into the room. Sitting on his father's lap, George struggles to say something until the word finally comes out: "Father." Mr. Sanders begins to cry as his little boy repeats the word over and over. I'm getting choked up just thinking about it, oh my goodness, somebody stop me, I'm tearing up...
This film marked the only time Young starred with all three sisters, Sally Blane, Polly Ann Young, and Georgiana Young. Unfortunately, they're not in the film much, probably to the disappointment of Loretta. Story was a turning point in her career as it was the final film she would do under contract to 20th Century Fox. Hearing that the real Mabel Hubbard Bell was mute in addition to being deaf, Young wanted to play her that way, but the
Incensed, she opted to be a freelancer rather than renew her contract. Ms. Loretta has become one of my favorite actresses lately, proving time and time again that she could do no wrong. There was no one else quite like her, and yet she doesn't get near the admiration she should have.
Clocking in at 97 minutes, Story is nicely paced and despite its scientific babblings, it never feels dull. I'm not the best at science, but Story dumbs down the technical stuff enough that you understand what's going on and you actually learn a few things. You can watch the film here on YouTube -- I hope you find it as enjoyable as I do!
here to celebrate the divine Ms. Young.