(1933)2.5Bruce EderOne Man's Journey is held together principally by the acting of Lionel Barrymore, who ages more than 25 years in the course of its narrative. He's equally good as a relatively youthful, newly widowered physician, trying to cope with raising a son (and, unexpectedly, a daughter), and as an aging country doctor who must surrender his most cherished professional aspirations for the greater good of his community. His aging into "an old country plug," as he calls himself, is presented with grace and humanity by the script and the actor, and Barrymore gets considerable help from David Landau early in the picture, as a put-upon farmer driven to a near-murderous rage; and May Robson as a down-to-earth housekeeper/helper who carries a lot of the rest of the picture -- Joel McCrea, who plays Barrymore's grown son, was not yet quite good enough an actor to pull his weight in a production like this, but the overall level of competency by the general cast, and the excellence of the two leads, makes his work less necessary. Director John S. Robertson and editor Arthur Roberts also pull off some clever visual narrative tricks that don't call attention to themselves too obviously. To be fair, however, a comparison between his movie and Garson Kanin's remake, as A Man To Remember (1938), shows the difference between competency laced with moments of inspiration, and a film inspired from first frame to last. Note: This movie, along with five other RKO titles produced by Merian C. Cooper, including Kanin's remake, as well as Double Harness, Rafter Romance, Living On Love, and Stingaree, disappeared from distribution for decades and only reappeared in 2006, thanks to the efforts of Turner Classic Movies.
Lionel Barrymore plays one of those selfless general practitioners that seem to exist exclusively in the movies in One Man's Journey. Though his efforts go unappreciated by his patients and even by his own family, the far-from-wealthy Dr. Eli Watt (Barrymore) continues to dedicate his life to medicine, ultimately inspiring his son Jimmy (Buster Phelps as a child, Joel McCrea as an adult) to follow in his footsteps. As a result of his tireless efforts to pull his community through a deadly epidemic, Dr. Watt is at last honored at a testimonial dinner, where his richer and more famous colleagues lift their glasses in praise of our hero. Of course, Watt also finds time to patch up the romance between his son Jimmy and Jimmy's sweetheart Joan (Frances Dee, Mrs. Joel Crea in real life). One Man's Journey was remade by director Garson Kanin as A Man to Remember (1938) -- a rare instance in which a remake was actually better than the original.