Kathryn Forbes’ memoirs of her Norwegian immigrant family are lovingly brought to life in this classic, often found on television on Mother’s Day. Mama is played by the luminous Irene Dunne, far from the sophisticated comedies and glossy romances she appeared in with Cary Grant, Charles Boyer, and Spencer Tracy. She presides over a large extended family with wisdom and good humor, and, in the best possible sense of the term, family values. A daughter’s adored cat who is injured, a roomer who skips out on the rent, a shy sister who wants to marry her timid gentleman friend, a gruff uncle who is not going gently into that good night, another daughter who wants to write—she handles them all so smoothly that it isn’t until the writer daughter sits down to tell her story that they see what she has done for all of them.
This movie provides a good opportunity for a discussion of honesty. Mama bends the rules more than once. She pretends to be a washerwoman at the hospital when she is told that her daughter cannot have visitors. She gently blackmails two of her sisters so that they won’t tease the third about her fiancé. She doesn’t tell Dagmar the truth about her cat. And, she lies to her children about the bank account so that they will feel secure. Yet she has an essential honesty and all of her actions are grounded in her devotion to her family and her strong sense of values, lovingly communicated to her children.