Viewed at Cinema Jolly (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato) (Seriously Funny. The Films of Leo McCarey), with e-subtitles in Italian, 4 July 2015.
Dave Kehr (Il Cinema Ritrovato, catalogue and website): "Good Sam is the last of McCarey’s religious films, and perhaps the most troubled. Another series of loosely linked episodes, centered on the trials and tribulations of a middle-class, suburban family of the type that was coming to define postwar America (and soon, post-war American television comedy), Good Sam has corners as grim and shadowy as Frank Capra’s nearly contemporaneous It’s a Wonderful Life, including a Christmas Eve climax that finds the saintly hero broke, drunk, and contemplating suicide."
"Said to be the closest of McCarey’s protagonists to his own personality, Sam Clayton (Gary Cooper) is a modern day Good Samaritan, who discovers that living by a code of Christian charity in the world of 1948 is to invite an endless parade of freeloaders and deadbeats to take advantage of his generosity. It’s up to his wife, Lu (Ann Sheridan, warm, womanly and practical) to keep their household functioning, up to the point where Sam gives away the down payment on the dream house she’s been yearning for. Just as the film poses an irresolvable question – is it possible to live a good life in the world as we know it? – so does the film have difficulty reaching resolution."
"McCarey shot and tested several different endings before settling on the climax as we have it – an extended, meandering sequence that involves a McCareyesque mixture of heavy drinking, group singing and stealth spirituality (in the form of a marching Salvation Army band), leading up to a definitive laughing-through-tears moment."
"NB: A substantially different, 130 minute cut of the film also exists, which gives much freer play to McCarey’s improvisational genius. Included are a magnificent sequence in which the family watches home movies and attempts a game of jacks, and a flashback in which Lu explains how she and Sam met. One can only hope that this version will someday be restored and made available for public screening." (Dave Kehr)
AA: Living as a Good Samaritan in a mercantile society can lead to extraordinary situations if the charitable person does not work within institutional norms as a priest or a monk. Good Sam has affinities with Luis Buñuel's Nazarín. It has also affinities with the contemporary Italians, Roberto Rossellini and Federico Fellini with their Franciscan interests (Francisco, giullare di Dio, La strada). Good Sam is also a film which would have interested Leo Tolstoy (his "good begets good" theme in the latter part of The Forged Note). The highly charged Catholic religious approach also brings to mind John Ford's The Fugitive.
The tale of the man who is so good to others that he is about to lose everything in his own life is fascinating. Sam lends his possessions and money to everybody, but when he is finally broke, nobody lends him. This is a fairy-tale but where Frank Capra pulled it off with his quite similar It's a Wonderful Life Leo McCarey does not quite succeed with Good Sam. It is interesting to discover a current of deep melancholy in such a feelgood narrative. There is even an undercurrent of bitterness. But still this is a film à thèse. The performances and the narrative fail to convince.
We love Leo McCarey for his high aspirations even when the end result does not work like it should. There is a lot to enjoy in Good Sam. The performances of Ann Sheridan and Gary Cooper are very agreeable in this tale of an unconventional marriage.
A fine print from UCLA.