When The Young in Heart (1938) showed up on the list of January titles for the Hendersonville Film Society, I not only realized I hadn’t seen it, I’d never heard of it—something that seemed unlikely from that year and with that cast. So I was interested to see it and fill in the gap. What I found was a pleasant little romantic comedy with a cast that was a little too good for it—which might explain its relative obscurity. It just seems like it ought to be better than it is, but it certainly isn’t bad. Story-wise, it’s a slightly screwball comedy about an impoverished family of fortune hunters who fall in with an apparently rich old lady (Minnie Dupree), who they set out to fleece. The results are predictable, but entertaining in a minor key.
While there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about the film itself—apart from the fact that stars Janet Gaynor and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. are brother and sister rather than the romantic leads—the fact that Gaynor retired from movies immediately afterward is at least interesting. Granted Gaynor’s career had gone from stratospheric heights in the late silent era with pictures like 7th Heaven (1926), Sunrise (1927), Street Angel (1928) and 4 Devils (1928) to a kind of stock ingenue in the early sound era. In between State Fair (1933) and A Star Is Born (1937), she was stuck in a series of unremarkable vehicles. A Star Is Born looked like a revitalization of her career, but all it resulted in was Three Loves Has Nancy (1938) and The Young in Heart—more undistinguished vehicles. It wasn’t hard to see that this was going nowhere. She seemed from another era. It’s hard to blame her for bailing.
Looked at today, however, films like The Young in Heart take on a certain nostalgia. There’s a good-heartedness to them that we don’t see very often today—nor do we see this much A-list talent rescuing what is little more than a glorified B picture to solid entertainment. As a curious aside, this film marks the second film of 1938 to reference the “flying wombat.” In The Big Broadcast of 1938, W.C. Fields had claimed to have had “a difficult time killing a rather stubborn flying wombat” on a golf course. Here the Flying Wombat is the name of a sports sedan (and it still looks pretty impressive) that Roland Young becomes a salesman for. The real question is did anyone have a clue what a wombat is?