Jolly Cinema > 10:15


John M. Stahl
Introduced by

Imogen Sara Smith


Tuesday 26/06/2018


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

Seed marks a flowering in the career of John M. Stahl. Having established himself in the silent era as a critic of modern marriage and its discontents, with his second talkie he achieved a delicately unsparing, quietly radical drama worthy of Mikio Naruse. This launched a series of mature melodramas in which Stahl treats the subject of female devotion with ambivalence and unforced sympathy, accepting the great loves to which his heroines give their lives but looking with a cold, clear eye at how little they get in return.

Based on a novel by social realist Charles G. Norris, Seed contrasts two types of womanhood: the chic, modern executive and the old-fashioned housewife and mother. As in Back Street (1932) and Only Yesterday (1933), further variations on the theme of independent working girls snared by love, the male lead is John Boles. A handsome, dead-eyed mannequin, Boles personifies oblivious masculine selfishness and entitlement. Here his character, a frustrated writer who resents the large family he has to support, abandons his wife and noisy brood of children for an old flame who believes in his talent. (In the film’s second half, one child is played with spring-water freshness by a very young Bette Davis.) At first, there is no contest between the witty, elegant career woman played by Genevieve Tobin and Lois Wilson’s smugly domestic wife. But there is a gradual, underground shift in the film’s sympathies, nudged by long, patient close-ups of Wilson. In the end, the rivals find common ground in a rueful acceptance of disappointment, facing the neglect and invisibility that is their lot as middle-aged women and taking the full bitter measure of the way men sentimentalize female self-sacrifice even as they take advantage of it. Stahl’s direction is self-effacing to the point of invisibility, and the film is all the more piercing for its simplicity, restraint, and bracing dryness.

Imogen Sara Smith

Cast and Credits

Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo di Charles G. Norris. Scen.: Gladys Lehman. F.: Jackson Rose. M.: Ted J. Kent, Arthur Tavares. Mus.: Heinz Roemheld. Int.: John Boles (Bart Carter), Lois Wilson (Peggy Carter), Genevieve Tobin (Mildred), Raymond Hackett (Junior Carter), ZaSu Pitts (Jennie), Bette Davis (Margaret Carter), Richard Tucker (Bliss), Frances Dade (Nancy), Jack Willis (Dicky Carter), Dick Winslow (Johnny Carter). Prod.: Universal Pictures. 35mm. D.: 96’. Bn.