Blossoms in the Dust (1941)
Mother to Many
There are no illegitimate children. There are only illegitimate parents! - Edna
Years ago I caught the end of a movie on TV, it was both a touching and powerful ending which makes me kick myself for not watching the whole movie. That movie was "Blossoms in the Dust" the story of Edna Gladney who not only helped orphaned children find loving homes but also campaigned for children's rights most importantly the removal of the word "illegitimate" from the birth certificates of those born with out a father. Now having finally seen the entire movie I can say that the rest of "Blossoms in the Dust" is just as good with a touching and powerful story, a brilliant performance from Greer Garson as Edna Gladney and that wonderful mix of drama, romance and humour which old Hollywood got so right.
Whilst due to marry Damon (John Eldredge), Edna (Greer Garson) is whisked off her feet by Texan Sam Gladney (Walter Pidgeon - Dark Command) who vows to marry her once he has set up his wheat mill and that is exactly what he does. But tragedy touches Edna's life, firstly when her adopted sister Charlotte (Marsha Hunt) dies and then when hers and Sam's only child dies leaving hew with a huge hole in her life. But thanks to Sam and Dr. Max Breslar (Felix Bressart) Edna finds herself becoming involved in finding orphaned and unwanted children homes especially those born illegitimately leading to her to campaign for the rights of children who find their birth certificates branded with the word "illegitimate" for no fault of their own.
Now in fairness the name Edna Gladney meant nothing to me before I watched "Blossoms in the Dust" and whilst I am sure and hope it is a name which is well known in Texas I don't think I would be alone in my ignorance. And unfortunately whilst "Blossoms in the Dust" is a powerful movie it is not authentic life story rather than taking the life of Edna Gladney and what she did and building a storyline around it. As such whilst we witness Edna helping to find children loving families and fighting for their rights, facts surrounding her own upbringing and characters are not factually accurate.
But whilst that is disappointing it also doesn't detract from not only the work Gladney did but the powerful storyline which the writers have created which mixes drama, romance and humour in that special way which old Hollywood got so right. It means that we go from the charming long distance courtship of Edna and Sam to the drama of her adopted sister Charlotte discovering that she was fatherless through to the quirky humour of Dr. Breslar. It's a wonderful blend which makes "Blossoms in the Dust" simply entertaining but never detracting from the story and the heart warming, touching tale especially the emotional strain it put on Edna as she became close to those young children who were in her care a long time.
Whilst the writers deserve praise for creating an entertaining story with the heart of Gladney's true story and director Mervyn LeRoy for managing to deliver both the heart and the fun of the story "Blossoms in the Dust" owes a lot to Greer Garson as Edna Gladney. It is such a perfect performance from Garson delivering the fun early on as she is courted by Sam, the heartbreak of various deaths to that sheer determination to do right by those children left in her care. It means that when we get to the touching scenes at the end of the movie we feel not only connected with Edna but also emotionally drained by her life of fighting and heartbreak. Ironically Garson is not the only strong performance in "Blossoms in the Dust" and Walter Pidgeon, Felix Bressart, Marsha Hunt and young Pat Barker all deliver wonderful performances but because Garson is so captivating they end up in her shadow.
What this all boils down to is that "Blossoms in the Dust" may not be a wholly accurate account of the life of Edna Gladney but it gets across what she did. And thanks to a stunning performance from Greer Garson you end up feeling connected as well as emotionally drained by what she went through.
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