And Life Goes On (1943)

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German title Life goes on
Original title The Human Comedy
Country of production United States
original language English
Publishing year 1943
length 118 minutes
Director Clarence Brown
script William Saroyan
Howard Estabrook
production Clarence Brown
for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
music Herbert Stothart
camera Harry Stradling Sr.
cut Conrad A. Annoying

And life goes on (Original title: The Human Comedy ) is an American film by director Clarence Brown from 1943 , which is based on a story by William Saroyan . During the Second World War , the young Homer Macauley ( Mickey Rooney ) lived with his family in the fictional city of Ithaca, California , where, like those around him, he was exposed to the consequences of the war on the home front.

At the Academy Awards in 1944 , the film won an Oscar in the “Best Original Story” category. It was nominated in four other categories, including “Best Film”.


In the small town of Ithaca, California, young Homer Macauley lives with his mother Katie, sister Bess and younger brother Ulysses. Homer's older brother Marcus is a soldier at war. Homer's father died two years ago. The mother tries to keep the memory of him alive and to bring her youngest son Ulysses closer to what his father was like and to explain to him why the father no longer goes out and in as he used to. In order to support his mother financially during this difficult war time, Homer has taken a job as a telegraph operator, although he is still in school. Homer has a very good relationship with Willie Grogan, an old employee in the telegraph office. Grogan is afraid of retirement because he cannot imagine life without his beloved job. It is difficult for him to completely renounce alcohol while on duty. So he made an agreement with Homer. In such a case, the boy has to pour cold water on his face and then bring him strong coffee. When Homer had to do this for the first time, he had great inhibitions, but that has since calmed down, since Grogan means again and again how grateful he is to him for it. Homer is a good athlete and is trained by Tom Spangler, a former hurdle champion and director of the telegraph office. Tom is engaged to Diana Ross, who comes from a very wealthy family.

When Homer has to hand over his first telegram with a death notice from a fallen soldier to his parents, he stutters tearfully at how sorry he is and that he hopes it was a mistake. In the course of the war more and more telegrams bring a lot of suffering to the families concerned, and unfortunately they are not a mistake. The reality of war, which does not spare the home front either, troubles Homer. He begins to understand his mother and her loneliness after the death of his father better and better.

Homer is happy when 'letters received his brother. He loves reading them to Grogan, who likes it too. The brother often reports about his comrade Tobey George, for whom he has painted his idyllic life in Ithaca in the most colorful colors. Tobey, who is an orphan, decided to become a member of the McCauley family after the war. When reading the last letter received from Marcus, Homer gets a strange feeling. His heart becomes heavy as he reads his brother's lines that one must always be prepared not to see the next day. Homer is sure that if Marcus doesn't come back, he will hate the whole world.

A few months have passed when Homer passes the telegraph office one Sunday and goes in to say hello to Grogan. When the news ticker starts up, Homer goes into the kitchen to get some coffee. When he comes back with the cup in hand, the Morse code is ticking , over which Grogan has slumped. He died of a heart attack. When Homer looks at the message he has received, his worst fears come true - his brother Marcus has fallen. Homer has to muster all his courage to deliver the tragic news to his mother. When he is in front of the house, he is approached by an unknown, wounded soldier. The boy quickly realizes that this is Tobey George, whom Marcus wrote about so often. Tobey gives Homer his ring as a bequest from his brother. They enter the house together. The ghost of his father Matthew orders Homer to take Tobey into the family as Marcus' brother because ... life goes on.

Production and Background

The filming began on September 2 and lasted until mid-November 1942. Some scenes of the film were shot in an abandoned Pacific Electric freight yard in Santa Monica , California. Further recordings were made on a high school sports field in north Hollywood , in Sunland and on Clarence Brown's ranch in Calabasas , California. Also in Fresno should have been shot.

In two scenes of the film, Matthew Macauley's ghost appears on the screen and Ray Collins, who plays this role, speaks about it in the original US version. The film includes the songs Rock of Ages - Cielito lindo - My Old Kentucky Home and Church in the Wildwood . Various ethnic groups appear in the festival scenes, performing dances from their homeland. Another scene shows three soldiers on vacation. They are embodied by Barry Nelson , Don DeFore and Robert Mitchum .

The film celebrated its world premiere in New York on March 2, 1943 .

According to information at the time, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Saroyan is said to have bought the 240-page screenplay, which he allegedly wrote in two weeks, for $ 60,000. Then there were disputes between the writer and the production company after the studio wanted to hire King Vidor as a director and there were differing views on the length of the script. Saroyan turned his back on MGM and then wrote a novel version of his story in his homeland. More modern sources claim that Saroyan attempted to buy back his script from MGM boss Louis B. Mayer, but the latter refused. In July 1942, Clarence Brown was entrusted with the shooting. Howard Estabrook was hired to expand Saroyan's script to a two-hour film. At the same time the film opened, Saroyan's novel was also being released and was shortlisted for Book of the Month. According to the New York Times , the novel was a bestseller at the time.

The then child actor Jack "Butch" Jenkins, son of actress Doris Dudley and grandson of columnist Bide Dudley, made his screen debut in this film. His performance was widely recognized. Jenkins was "discovered" by Clarence Brown's secretary. Brown gave him a leading role again in his 1944 film Little Girl, Big Heart ( National Velvet ). According to modern sources, Jenkins' acting career ended as early as 1948 after he began to stutter. John Craven, who can be seen as Tobey George, also made his screen debut in The Human Comedy .

Both Gene Kelly and Lionel Barrymore , who had been announced for the role of Willie Grogan, as well as Spring Byington and Keenan Wynn were ultimately unavailable. Other announced actors did not appear in the cast list either. When Saroyan created the character of Homer Macaulay, the actor he had in mind was Mickey Rooney, who then also received an Oscar nomination for "Best Actor" for his acting skills. Rooney was then in the middle of a painful divorce proceeding from his first wife, Ava Gardner .

Joseph E. Breen, who promoted the MGM film, advertised it as the greatest film one had ever seen. Modern sources claim that The Human Comedy was Louis B. Mayer's favorite film. The film earned the Motion Picture Research Bureau one of its top ratings.

On September 9, 1949, the Hallmark Playhouse released a radio version of the story starring Mickey Rooney, directed by Clarence Brown. On March 30, 1959, CBS-TV aired an adapted story directed by Robert Mulligans and starring Michael J. Pollack.


The Human Comedy was largely well received by the critics at the time .

The reviewer of the Hollywood Reporter wrote about the film, that it was the best he had ever seen , while some more sophisticated critics conversed about that story about a small-town family during World War II "sugary" and "sentimental over charge" was .

For Variety , the original script sketched "awesome" the essential foundations of the American way of life . Director Clarence Brown would transfer the images to the screen with "exceptional fidelity" and the cast would be led by Mickey Rooney. [...] Rooney showed the "strongest performance of his career" and was "great and radiant" as the boy from Saroyan's story.

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times said that the simple story was about the fact that people are basically good and that suffering experienced opens people's hearts even more. Clarence Brown let his characters speak as if they were preaching down from a pulpit , which is then underlined with particularly soulful and tearful music or with aureoles over their heads . However, there are “some moments of extraordinary beauty” in the film . Crowther also emphasized the performance of the actors, which is usually very good . Mickey Rooney's portrayal of a “sensitive boy” , whom he portrayed with “great tenderness” and the “necessary restraint”, was highlighted. Frank Morgan "was a win" and successfully conveyed the image of a brave old man . Fay Bainter is “soft and sweet” as Mrs. Maccauley, James Craig “loud and warm” and the other actors are appealing in their roles, especially little Jack Jenkins as a four-year-old Ulysses.


  • William Saroyan won the Oscar for Best Original Story.
  • Oscar nomination for "Best Film"
  • Clarence Brown, nominated for an Oscar in the category "Best Director"
  • Mickey Rooney, nominated for an Oscar for "Best Actor"
  • Harry Stradling Sr., nominated for an Oscar for "Best Cinematography" in a black and white film.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b The Human Comedy Original Print Infos at TCM - Turner Classic Movies (English)
  2. a b c d e f g h i The Human Comedy Notes at TCM - Turner Classic Movies (English)
  3. a b c The Human Comedy Articles at TCM - Turner Classic Movies
  4. Review: 'The Human Comedy' by Variety Staff, December 31, 1942. Retrieved November 27, 2013.
  5. ^ Bosley Crowther: The Human Comedy (1943) The Screen; William Saroyan's First Picture, 'The Human Comedy,' With Mickey Rooney and Frank Morgan, Opens at the Astor In: The New York Times, March 3, 1943. Retrieved November 27, 2013.