The Young in Heart is a delightful, though not well known, comedy about a family of sophisticated, charming con artists who are trying to con a wealthy, elderly lady by pretending to be far better people than they really are. The trouble is that with all the effort to appear good, they begin to find themselves becoming just who they pretend to be and it’s very embarrassing to each member of the family; they don’t want the others to know they are becoming soft-hearted.
It seems like such a shame that this film is not better known today. Part of the reason could be that the cast does not contain actors we are as familiar with now. The movie is about the Carleton family, who are attempting to con their way into a wealthy position: Colonel Anthony Carleton (Roland Young), who is called Sahib by his family, Mrs. Carleton (Billie Burke), who everyone calls Marmy, and their two children George-Anne (Janet Gaynor’), the youngest and the real brains of the family, and Richard Carleton (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr,), suave, but who has never worked a day in his life.
Of course, the Sahib is not really a sahib from India or a colonel or a Bengal Lancer, though he is always saying that he is. He just played the role in a play, many years ago, with his wife.
While arranging for Richard to marry an heiress so they can all sponge off of her, the Sahib cheats at cards and they are unmasked and told to leave the Riviera. They are destitute in a train station, where Sahib and Marmy fondly reminisce about the old days while their two children despondently contemplate the wreck of their plans: Richard to marry the heiress and George-Anne to marry a Scotsman without any money (since she was going to sponge of Richard’s wife, she didn’t need a rich husband).
The Sahib and Marmy are a very affectionate couple and seem to be crooks out of sheer eccentricity. Their children, however, are quite serious about their crookedness; they mean to have money. Fortunately, they encounter Miss Fortune (Minnie Dupree), a lonely, rich and very sweet old lady who is only too delighted to meet such an agreeable family and is so touched by their kind attention that she invites them to stay with her. Then George-Anne conceives a plan: they’re going to be as good as Miss Fortune thinks they are so that she’ll make them her heirs.
George-Anne even talks her father and Richard into pretending to look for jobs, although they really just go out and tour the city. But then Duncan Macrea (Richard Carlson), her former fiancé, comes to see George-Anne. He’s extremely annoyed about her whole family con artistry, but says he finds he can’t live without her. She tells him that he will have to and he, rather mischievously, knowing that her father is supposedly looking for work, gets Sahib a job as a salesman for the Flying Wombat, which is a car that looks like the kind of thing Batman should have driven. George-Anne is obliged to make Sahib take the job so that Miss Fortune won’t know he wasn’t serious about his job hunting. He does so with much trepidation and discovers that he has a real knack for the business.
Richard also ends up with a job, sorting mail at an engineering company. His boss, Leslie Saunders (Paulette Goddard) is not impressed by his smooth lines, but is intrigued that he has never had a job before and is curious how he will turn out. She also lets him take her out to dinner after he gets his first paycheck and soon he thinks he’d rather like to study engineering.
There are two themes in the film: faith and love. Miss Fortune says “one must have faith in the people you love,” even though her lawyer warns her about the Carletons. Duncan, in his own way, has faith in George-Anne. He is always showing up on some errand or other and they always argue and he is always leaving “once and for all.” He drives her nuts by insisting that though her family are all crooks, she’s a good girl, while she keeps telling him to stop making her out to be better than she is and that she’s just as crooked as her family. Ironically, she’s right, but Duncan keeps on insisting and is eventually proved right. Even Leslie Saunders demonstrates faith in Richard when she gives him the job.
Of course, the reason people live up to the faith is because they love the person with the faith. The difficulty is just to get over their bad habits and crooked ways. At one point Richard asks if George-Anne is in love with Duncan and she replies, “How could I be in love with him? He hasn’t any money!” They are all touched by Miss Fortune’s utter faith and love for them, but won’t admit it to each other. When Richard buys her a dog, he says it’s part of the act. When George-Anne catches her father with a moist eye, he denies it has anything to do with being moved by Miss Fortune’s kindness.
It’s all very sweet and charming and the humor is rather droll. It is a comedy of crooks becoming good, quite accidentally, because of the people around them and their own efforts of deception.
The movie is on DVD and can also be seen on youtube.