Author William Saroyan's corn-shucking brand of sentimentality works wonders in this 1943 filmization of his novel. Narrator Ray Collins is dead before the film begins; thus he is able to provide an all-seeing overview of the tiny community of Ithaca, California. The principal character, played by Mickey Rooney, is Collins' son; as the delivery boy for the local telegraph office, Rooney keeps in close contact with virtually every family in town, which results in several comic and poignant moments. Rooney's older brother Van Johnson is in uniform, off fighting World War II; his sister Marcia Hunt is the erstwhile sweetheart of telegraph-office supervisor James Craig. The "circle of life" concept that unifies the anecdotal plotline is best illustrated by the film's final image: after Johnson dies in battle, his best friend, parentless John Craven, is more or less adopted by Collins' family. Reportedly, The Human Comedy was MGM chief executive Louis B. Mayer's favorite film, an apotheosis of Mayer's devotion to "family values." Among the many small-part players populating Human Comedy are Barry Nelson, Robert Mitchum, Don DeFore, Jay Ward (later the producer of Rocky and His Friends) and Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer.
by Hal Erickson synopsis