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The Human Comedy [Remaster]
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69 of 71 people found the following review helpful
on December 15, 2001
This has always been one of my favorite films, since I saw it on TV about 30 years ago. Sentimental & Corny? Sure, but those who take the time to feel the deeper message will be rewarded. Apparently, some of my reviewing predecessors kept their minds closed to the depth (yes, that's right) of the story. First of all, this is a fable; a commentary not on life itself, but about life as it ought to be. The fact that it involves Ithaca, and characters named Homer, Ulysses & Marcus suggests Greek tragedy (the irony of the title) and the Greek chorus (the father). I couldn't possibly deny the fact that there are plenty of sappy moments, but they are layered & blended with some quite profound lessons. Let's not forget that in 1942 the war was at its absolute peak and enouragement like this was not only welcome but very necessary. Mickey Rooney gave a relaxed, centered performance, probably his best; Frank Morgan, Fay Bainter, James Craig, Marsha Hunt...all wonderful. How can you not feel for Homer when he has to deliver a singing telegram to his girlfriend...sent by his rival? Clarence Brown, known for heart-tuggers (The Yearling, National Velvet) came thru with flying colors, juggling the very complicated events & episodes into a coherent narrative. Say or think what you want...I was moved and touched by the over-all power of this film. It is quite verbose, and some of the preachy little speeches might've been shortened, but the substance of those little speeches hit home powerfully. Home, family, work, love...all those things that matter...are portrayed here as they "ought" to be, and after the tragedy of Sept 11, I welcome this little reminder of the things we have that are taken so much for granted. UPDATE: I have the DVD, and I'm quite happy to watch it again. A wonderful film experience.
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55 of 56 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 1999
In today's society where everything seems to be based on cyniscim, this movie is absolutey refreshing. It takes you back to small town life that has all but vanished from the face of America today. Some viewers may find it trite and corny, but I saw the sweetness in it. When Mickey Rooney reads the letter from his brother Van Johnson it never fails to bring tears to my eyes. I found this movie touching, and a far cry from the craziness in the movies we see these days. I like remembering what life was like back then. A time when neighbors were neighors, and everyone in town knew each other. If you don't watch this movie, you are missing a gem. I recently wrote Miss Helen Hunt who also starred in the movie with James Craig and thanked her for making this movie, she graciously wrote me back and gave me her autograph even though she must be in her eighties,but shes a product of the old hollywood, when stars were really stars.Watch this movie you won't regret it.
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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
A fine film. It's pure, distilled, Grade-A, all-star, all-American, accept-no-substitutions, concentrated, three-hankie, melodramatic, sentimental, heartwarming, white picket fence, patriotic wartime schmaltz. They don't make 'em like this anymore. Mickey Rooney stars as Homer Macauley, a bright-eyed, fresh-faced, optimistic teenager living in Smalltown, USA during the height of World War Two, when all able bodied young men, including his older brother, have gone off to fight against the fascists and save civilization itself. Still, even with soldiers passing through town and cannons crowding the trains that are headed back East towards Europe, the war is still far, far away, and civilization can still be saved right here, back on the homefront. Taking his brother's place as "the man of the family," Homer learns about hard work, fair play, compassion for others, and about disappointment and heartbreak as well. It's all unremittingly corny, but that's entirely the point. This is not a modern movie -- it isn't cynical or packed with obligatory violence, nor is it politically nuanced or notably subtle. But it is a fine document of its time, sort of an ultimate exposition of the best and most cheerful face that mainstream, white America could put on the underlying grimness that a total war mobilization meant for America and the world. It's a piece of homefront propaganda, but no less true to life, in its way, than any other film of the time.
The screenplay by William Saroyan is set in the author's home in California's fertile San Joaquin Valley, and while he makes sweeping nods towards the Valley's legendary cultural diversity (omitting, for the most part, blacks, Jews and Germans...), Saroyan gives Norman Rockwell a run for his money in the sentimental Americana category. A couple of the religiously-themed scenes may be suffocating to secular or nonsectarian audiences, but other than the film's persistent preachiness, it's a fascinating slice of wartime historical hokum -- worth checking out its time capsule qualities, as well as for entertainment value. Plus, it's packed with loads of great character actors and all-star cameos, including Frank Morgan (aka The Wizard Of Oz), as Homer's older mentor, Don Defore and (a very young) Robert Mitchum as babyfaced soldiers on leave, and Carl Switzler ("Alfalfa," of the Little Rascals) as a teenage hooligan. This movie is sappy, sure... but it's also worth checking out if you have any interest in understanding American society at this critical juncture in our national history.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on April 23, 2006
This is a unique drama, one of those unusual dramas where there are no villains, no evil people. Yet, it's not a sweet-and-sugary movie, either. It's simply a "slice of life," as they say, or "Americana." In the case, about life in a small California town during the middle of World War II. It is very true to the book written by William Saroyan.

The story features genuinely nice people who trust one another, respect one another, have manners, read the Bible and say their prayers, do what they are told and apologize if they are nasty....not exactly what you've seen in films in the past half century.

Although the film is a bunch of vignettes featuring a number of characters, Mickey Rooney is the central figure and I wonder if he ever was better. He is outstanding in here. I never realized what a good actor he was until I saw this movie.

Frank Morgan also was memorable in here, and I usually didn't care for the roles he played many times. But here, he's very serious and honest and real.

The "slices of life" include Rooney and his family, school friends, his job as a telegram delivery boy; Morgan and his drinking problem; James Craig and his romance; Van Johnson and his army buddies and Jackie "Butch" Jenkins and his little friends. Also of note are three young military men making an appearance, actors who became well known by the end of the decade: Robert Mitchum, Barry Nelson and Don DeFore. Donna Reed, Fay Bainter and Marsha Hunt add the female touch and a big dose of wholesome beauty. This has a deep cast, as you can see. There are other recognizable actors in here, too, such as "Alfalfa" (Carl Switzer) of "Our Gang" fame.

This picture of "Americana" is so innocent compared to today, it is almost shocking. A kiss was a big deal; nobody locked their doors at night; the girls went out on blind dates with the soldiers and all treated each other with respect.

It's a very sentimental film, which is another reason I like it. It's a sad comment about film critics who think that "sentimental" is a dirty word, but even those cynics still had praise for this film. It's so well done that it's hard not to praise it. If they just release this on DVD, perhaps more people would discover this gem.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 25, 2010
AT LAST IT's BEEN PRESERVED on DVD--and it's ABOUT TIME!! You can hurl all the insults you want, but they won't begin to affect the magical, dreamlike (but somewhat off-beat) effect of this unique film, created by Saroyan as a screenplay first, then adapted as a book afterwards---Louis B. Mayer's favorite among the films produced under his rule.

Certainly, a jaded, elitist snob will reject the overt sentiment of "The Human Comedy" but, then again, the deep and mysterious dimension, the warm, tender mysticism that springs from this gentle, homespun tale of a community united during the darkest days of WWII will obviously have eluded them.

A PAGEANT OF SMALL-TOWN AMERICANA, a series of insightful little vignettes about human nature as seen through the eyes of a 15-year old boy who must assume the role of head-of-the-family during the War. I mean, c'mon...the film opens with the voice and spirit of a dead man hovering in the clouds over the verdant fields of his former home town; this is NO ORDINARY TALE of war-time tragedy, but Saroyan's own uniquely emotional view, he being an Armenian immigrant who saw nothing but the greatness and goodness of his adopted homeland, the good old U.S.A.; got a problem with that? --then go spend your time (and vitriol) elsewhere!

MICKEY ROONEY---great actor? Watch this film and decide for yourself. Check the scene where the Mick reads aloud a letter from his brother Marcus--you will witness an utterly masterful example of emotional power and restraint. His reading could serve as a textbook for anyone who presumes to understand the actor's craft.

FRANK MORGAN--"the great Oz himself!"---great actor? - again, watch and decide.

Young Mickey Rooney, who quickly learns life's lessons as a war-time telegram delivery boy, discovers a surrogate father in his boss, played by a strapping young James Craig...a kindly, highly principled young guy who is in love with an absolutely ravishing young Marsha Hunt. But we really don't understand their relationship until an intriguing, lovely scene in a moonlit garden outside of her family's ritzy home, accompanied by Herbert Stothart's breezy, tender background score.

I'll admit that Marcus (Van Johnson) picks up that dang' accordion and leads his army buddies in song at least ONE-TOO-MANY times during the film, but it is his friendship with his pal Toby, a fellow soldier who was orphaned (and thus exists without an identity in Saroyan's cosmic view), that provides the film with its most curious and uplifting conclusion (which one reviewer here even describes as "macabre!"). Saroyan sought to offer his mystical, magical concept of the ETERNAL FLOW and RENEWAL OF LIFE as solace for a grief-stricken America, which was desperately in search of comfort in 1943. Yeah, it may seem a little clumsy and naive at times, but so what? There are simply too many fascinating and excellent things to comment on in this magnificent film, itself a two-hour TAPESTRY of small-town American life, produced during the heyday of the legendary MGM studio.

AND SPEAKING OF 9/11: There is a scene fairly late in the film, where James Craig and his lovely bride (Ms Hunt) are out for a drive in his convertible. They slowly cruise through a sunny park, where an International ethnic festival is in full swing, with dancers of many nations performing. Mr. Craig comments on each dance, while Herbert Stothart's music brilliantly combines the various ethnic rhythms and tunes with a gorgeous, underlying "My Country 'tis of Thee", thus underscoring the fact that these "diverse" immigrant groups, despite their cultural differences which they celebrate, are all essentially---profoundly---AMERICAN. The young couple parks the car overlooking a beautiful California vista---vineyards, fields, mountains, while behind the car we see a shimmery, sun-lit pond and a delicate bridge, across which children seem to dance; it is a vision of pastoral, radiant beauty, which mirrors the emotional ecstasy of the newlywed couple. And, after having shared their dreams of their future first child, Mr. Craig tells his bride that he has decided to enlist in the Navy (and this shortly before he must help young Mickey deal with the devastating emotional blow that we...and his chracter....felt was coming all along).

And such is the fascinating, one-of-a-kind magic and deceptively simple puzzle of "The Human Comedy"; you simply CANNOT judge it as if it were a standard war-era film.

Oh, yes...when my wife and I first watched the folk-dance scene described above, she commented that it was "awfully hoaky." The next time we watched it together was three days after 9-11, and the SAME SCENE left us both weeping like little kids.

AT LAST, Turner/MGM/Warner Home Video---WHOEVER is responsible---THANKS for finally releasing this great film on DVD. And Mickey Rooney and Marsh Hunt are STILL WITH US, and will hopefully be able to enjoy what very well may be their greatest film achievement!!

Larry Rapchak
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
The Human Comedy is one of the old standards, a patriotic, sentimental smorgasbord of home front Americana that every family should watch together. On surface it's comparable to "Sunday Dinner For A Soldier" and "The Fighting Sullivans," but overall a better picture. It has a sad part, but is also uplifting, with many humorous and poignant scenes.

Mickey Rooney (Young Tom Edison, Boys Town, National Velvet, etc.) plays teenage Homer, who takes a job in the local telegraph office delivering messages - many of tragic news, since it's the height of World War II - to friends, acquaintances, and strangers throughout his home town, Ithaca. His older brother Van Johnson (30 Seconds Over Tokyo, In The Good Old Summertime, etc.) has gone off to fight the war. His younger brother Ulysses - Useless to his friends (Jackie 'Butch' Jenkins, who also appeared in National Velvet and Our Vines Have Tender Grapes) - is just five years old and discovering life with daily wonder.

Homer looks up to the manager of the telegraph office, James Craig (Our Vines Have Tender Grapes, Lost Angel), and the elderly telegrapher, Frank Morgan (The Wizard of Oz, The Shop Around The Corner), who requires, "in the event of drunkenness - mine, not yours," a degree of understanding only a child can provide. Homer clashes with a schoolmate, learns from his teacher, misses his brother, all in scenes with Leave-It-To-Beaver flavor.

Meanwhile Ulysses visits the town Library with his older friend Lionel (Darryl Hickman, who appeared in numerous movies including Keeper of the Flame and The Tingler, and whose brother Dwayne played Dobie Gillis). Neither can read, but they sure are awed just to look at all the books, all of them different. Later they join older boys stealing apricots, then Ulysses learns the meaning of fear from a mechanical man in a store window.

Homer's sister, Donna Reed (It's A Wonderful Life, Ransom) entertains three soldiers on leave, played by Don DeFore (Ramrod, Ozzie and Harriet), Barry Nelson (A Guy Named Joe, Airport), and a very young Robert Mitchum.

Ray Collins, who went on to play Police Lieutenant Tragg on Perry Mason, plays the spirit of of Homer's late father, who narrates at the beginning and end of the film.

All of these actors play their roles well to make the movie effective, including the children. Others in the cast include Marsha Hunt (Valley Of Decision, Lost Angel) as James Craig's girl, Fay Bainter (Our Town, State Fair) as Homer's mother, Clem Bevins (Wake Up And Dream) as the apricot owner, and in bit parts Morris Ankrum (who often played a judge on Perry Mason), Frank Craven (Our Town, Jack London, Penrod And Sam, etc.), S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall (In The Good Old Summertime, Casablanca), Carl Switzer (Alfalfa of the Little Rascals), and many others.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on August 26, 2005
Way, way back in the 9th grade, in the early 60's, our principal canceled all our afternoon classes and had the entire 9th grade meet in the assembly room (lunchroom without the tables) so he could show us this movie on a 16 mm projector. That's how strongly he felt about this movie. He pointed out, afterwards, that this is a fable, about how life could be if...

After a few decades I bought the video and watched it - not from the viewpoint of comparing it to today's movies, but in the context of what my old principal told us. Just to see if the old impressions held up in light of today's jaded world. It did, and I was surprised at how thoroughly I enjoyed it.

Note that the name of the town is Ithica, that two of the main characters are named Homer and Ulysses, & that the story is introduced from a "heavenly voice from above". All mythological references.

It is showing us how life could be, maybe should be, even with life's tragedies. Not too often, even back then, do you see a family saying their prayers, then discussing them. And, yes, it'd be great if male macho rivalries were settled that easily. And it'd be great if non-relative adults would take the time to help young adults improve (without worrying about ulterior motives). It's all what-ifs, but great what ifs.

Mickey Rooney was never better, and most of the cast was excellent. I highly recommend this movie and encourage everyone who does watch it to be really aware of what you are watching.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 13, 2003
I disagree with reviewers who've complained that this movie is too patriotic. The heart of the movie is the Macauley family, not the war effort or America alone. Just because Homer Macauley (Mickey Rooney) chooses optimism over bitterness, it is not because of patriotism. Though the Macauley family has an older son away at war, their daily struggle is trying to get by without a father as fourteen-year-old Homer tries to support his family with a job as telegram boy. Though this proves difficult at times, Homer never complains and remains endearingly precocious, as displayed by his struggle in school with a snobby bully and his hopeless crush on a classmate. Overall, the movie is a good, solid effort, mostly due to Mickey Rooney's flawless performance as Homer.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 29, 2005
This film is both unique and profound. There isn't a wasted scene in this film--in fact, it is crowded with poignant and profound images to go with the great words and acting. I found myself hanging on every word, enjoying every scene in this romantic vignette of the World War II homefront. Mickey Rooney delivers his finest performance, especially when he reads a letter from his brother (played by Van Johnson). The co-stars would take up a whole page to describe, but it appears that MGM brought in every up and coming star to this cast. Share this one with a good friend. (for some reason, Ted Turner has yet to turn this into a DVD, so try to tape it off TCM when it plays).
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2009
The movie "The Human Comedy", (1943) is a dark, melancholy slice of life taken from the home front, during World War II. The movie centers on the Macauley family, and begins with the voice of Mr. Macauley speaking from the great beyond. "I have been dead for two years" he says, while we, the viewing audience are watching the youngest Macauley, Ulysses, looking at a gopher pushing up dirt around his hole. "My beliefs still live in the faces of my family" the disembodied voice from beyond tells us as we are introduced to the other family members.
The second son, Homer, (Mickey Rooney) is a telegraph messenger and is the link between families as he makes his rounds and is deeply affected by each encounter. His telegrams usually mean that some poor soldier has died, and it is Homers job to give the family the bad news.
At Homer's office, Mr. Grogan (Frank Morgan) is a philosophizing, gentle old drunk, who tells Homer, to help him in case of excessive drunkenness. "Water in the face if a shrug does not work, followed up by black coffee. If you see me in the street in the fit of drunkenness don't make fun of me, as I am a sensitive old man, and not taken with public ridicule".
The third son, Marcus, (Van Johnson) is a private in the army and has a child hood sweetheart who lives next door. Marcus and his buddy, the orphaned Toby, are preparing to go to war.
Mrs. Macauley is seen as a kind of everyone's mother, speaking in kindly soft tones, and the camera filter softly blurring her image as if to make her appear more saintly. She seems to tell the audience that everything will be ok, a reassurance greatly needed in 1943. With the war raging on, and the dead soldiers mounting, it is not hard to imagine the movie-going public hanging on her every word. When young Ulysses asks his mother where his father has gone, she responds in a soft voice, and tries to explain to the young boy, and the audience, her very motherly views on death. "The end is the beginning" she whispers. The dead husband then appears in a ghost-like fashion, and kisses her lovingly on the head. There couldn't have been a dry eye in the theater after that scene!
Homer, the messenger, takes a telegram of a soldier's death to the soldier's mother, Mrs. Sandoval. Mrs. Sandoval cannot read English, and asks Homer to please read the telegram to her. Homer, clearly shaken, says, "It says your son is dead Mrs. Sandoval." Homer is going through some changes now, as the country was then, and says to his mother, "School seems so silly now." Homer's character is reflecting the mood of the country as it tried to deal with all the deaths coming out of the Pacific and European theaters. Also by choosing a Hispanic mother, the audience is being reminded that we are all in this together, and that we are all Americans.
There is also an interesting side story going on at the same time. Mr. Spangler, Homers boss, is dating a society girl that he really likes. The problem is that he is of working class and he does not want to mix with the wealthy. He refuses to wear a tie and says that they will just have to take him as he is. He meets the girl's family and friends but does everything in his power to keep a distance. It was not until the girl tells him that her grandfather was once a day laborer, that he realizes that there is not as much difference between them as he thought. This is to further illustrate to the audience that we are all equal in some way, and that we are all fighting for the same cause.
Donna Reed is Homer's sister Bess Macauley. One of my favorite scenes is where Bess and Mary meet up with some soldiers and go to a movie together. They all go as friends, with Bess and in another message to the audience, we see Mary feeling that they are helping out the war effort by being nice to the GI's. One of the GI's says very poignantly "I guess you don't get to understand your country until it is in trouble."
Van Johnson is killed and Mr. Grogan receives the telegraph. He dies of an apparent heart attack before he finished typing the message, and Homer finds him slumped in his chair. Homer is stunned by the message and the death of his friend. Mr. Spangler arrives to help deal with Mr. Grogan and to console Homer. As Homer and Mr. Spangler are playing horse shoes in the park Toby the orphan arrives from the war. Toby has adopted the town of Ithaca as his own, and has memorized all the names of Homer's family, as well as the streets and buildings of Ithaca. Toby finds the Macauley home and is standing in front of it dreamily as Homer arrives home. Homer recognizes the soldier as his brother's best friend Toby, and invites him in. This can be seen as a message to Americans to welcome all the soldiers home.
The sappiness and war time propaganda in this film is never ending. It is also one of my all time favorites!
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