These Wilder Years is a fairly typical 1950s tearjerker, a Douglas Sirk film without Sirk's strangely appealing directorial hand to guide it. Director Roy Rowland's approach is workmanlike and reasonably effective, but it cannot transform the material the way that Sirk could when at his best. Frank Fenton's screenplay is manipulative to the extreme, and strangely cold -- perhaps because its "heart" is so clearly made of plastic. The dialogue is tired and boring; there are hardly any scenes in which the big moments aren't telegraphed well in advance, and there are precious few twists to keep the material interesting. What Wilder does have, fortunately, is a pair of sterling performances from the wonderful James Cagney and the glorious Barbara Stanwyck. While both actors display the strength and stubbornness that are their hallmarks, they also both get to display their vulnerability; Cagney, in particular, is touching and appealing without ever losing his edge. He even makes the most maudlin of the scenes work, and there's an undeniable chemistry between the two stars that carries the film through any number of rough patches. With anyone else, Wilder would be a bore; with these two, it's got just enough star power to keep the viewer's hands away from the remote.