On Borrowed Time (1939)

ON BORROWED TIME (1939)
Article #1000 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-10-2003
Posting Date: 5-8-2004
Directed by Harold S. Bucquet
Featuring Lionel Barrymore, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Bealah Bondi

A crusty old man tries to save his grandson from being taken away from him by a scheming relative, and in order to stave off his own demise, traps Death (by the name of Mr. Brink) in an apple tree.

This movie racks up a few strikes against it fairly early on; Lionel Barrymore overplays his part somewhat in the first half of the movie (it is possible to be too cantankerous and crusty), the child actor who plays the grandson becomes actively annoying fairly early in the proceedings, and it takes far too long to set up its central moment when Grandpa traps Mr. Brinks in the apple tree. However, once this point is reached, the movie really comes into its own, and is helped immensely by the appearance of familiar faces such as Henry Travers and Nat Pendleton. It’s fascinating to watch the various strategems that Grandpa employs to not only stave off his death, but to save his grandson and keep himself from being committed to an asylum as well. It’s also helped by a quiet but supremely effective performance by Sir Cedric Hardwicke in the role of Mr. Brinks. The ending of the movie is particularly powerful, partially due to its inevitability, and partially due to the fact that it’s one of those endings that hovers in that strange gray area between a tragic ending and a happy one. This one is worth catching, but patience is necessary for the first half.

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