review for Cynthia on AllMovie

Cynthia (1947)
by Bruce Eder review

Elizabeth Taylor cut such a wide swathe with her films and career across a period of nearly half-a-century, in everything from outsized epics (Cleopatra) to Tennessee Williams adaptations (Cat On A Hot Tin Roof etc.), that the tendency is to overlook her early, studio-generated movies at MGM -- even the good ones, and especially the interesting ones, of which Cynthia is one of the best. Her portrayal of a girl driven to illness and seeming incapacity by her parents' fears and frustrations is wonderfully subtle and touching, and she elicits great poignancy, especially in the second half of the movie, as she blossoms in spite of the parental and social pressures working against her. And in doing so, she shows the way forward for both of her parents, in a sequence of events that prove as light-hearted as they are charming -- after a brief moment in which the audience is, seemingly, made ready for a tragic turn that never comes. Equally fine are Mary Astor as her understanding but frustrated mother and George Murphy as her father, a man of promise and ambition who has been pushed into doormat status by his fear of life's risks -- Astor had given (and continued to give, for years after) many fine performances, but Murphy, nearing the end of his acting career, was finding a vulnerable side to his cheerful, glib-tongued Irish persona that adds immeasurably to the pleasures of this movie (indeed, it's almost as though he was following the same arc with his talent as James Dunn). The rest of the cast, headed by James Lydon as Taylor's nice-guy would-be beau and Gene Lockhart and Spring Byington as parents of a nasty rival, is just as good. And director Robert Z. Leonard catches just the right tone and nuance in his handling of the scenes to help make this little-remembered movie both a charming piece of small-town Americana and a delightful early credit in Taylor's career.