Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (1934)

 Run Time: 80 min. | b/w
Director: Norman Taurog
Stars: w. Pauline Lord, W.C. Fields, Zasu Pitts, Kent Taylor
 Genres: Drama | Adventure | Thriller
Storyline
An optimistic fable about a never-say-die woman who raises her poor family while waiting for a wandering husband to return, as she bravely battles poverty, eviction threats, and other wolves at her door. Pitts and Fields supply the humour.

4 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    August 1, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    With her husband in the Klondike searching for gold, MRS. WIGGS OF THE CABBAGE PATCH (the poor part of town) valiantly strives against heavy odds to care for her five children.

    Based on the book by Helen Hegan Rice, this is a wonderfully sentimental look at a bygone era of Americana. While it is easy and perhaps even fashionable to scoff at films which touch the emotions, there is absolutely nothing wrong with sentimentality if the sentiment expressed rings honest & true. There are no false notes here.

    Noted stage actress Pauline Lord (1890-1950), in the first of only three film appearances, is heartrending in the title role. Gentle & patient, she is the very epitome of loving motherhood. ZaSu Pitts (1898-1963), with vague voice & fluttering fingers, gives a noteworthy performance as the Wiggs’ spinster neighbor. Had events proceeded differently and her contributions to von Stroheim’s GREED justly appreciated, Miss Pitts would have been recognized as one of the screen’s greatest tragediennes. Instead, she orbited into comedic roles, constantly portraying a nervous, scatterbrained female, a sort of living, breathing, Olive Oyl.

    Following the film’s most sorrowful sequence, director Norman Taurog wanted to introduce a light touch to the succeeding scenes. The inimitable W. C. Fields was brought in for one week’s work to play Miss Pitts’ gustatorial suitor. Although in much pain from a torn ligament, he is splendid, delivering what is almost a dress rehearsal for his subsequent characterization of the marvelous Micawber. His scenes with Miss Pitts are a special delight, mixing blustery braggadocio with humor & pathos.

    The romantic angle is nicely underplayed by Evelyn Venable & Kent Taylor, portraying upper echelon protectors of the Wiggs family. Charles Middleton does well as the obligatory villainous landlord. Young George P. Breakston is especially good as the ethereal Jimmy; and Donald Meek scores in his tiny role as Mrs. Wiggs ineffectual husband.

    Movie mavens will recognize Arthur Housman in his typical role of an inebriate & Dell Henderson as the theater manager, both unbilled.

    Tender & charming, here is a film which the receptive viewer should cherish.

  2. IMDBReviewer

    August 1, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    MRS. WIGGS OF THE CABBAGE PATCH (Paramount, 1934), directed by Norman Taurog, is a wholesome story about a poor family sticking together, staying together, through thick and thin, under the guardianship and courage of Mrs. Elvira Wiggs as portrayed by Pauline Lord (1890-1950) in her film debut. From the novel by Alice Hagan Rice, her characters were first transferred on stage followed by three three silent screen adaptations: (World Wide, 1914) with Blanche Chapman; (Paramount, 1919) with Mary Carr; and as LOVELY MARY (MGM, 1926) starring Bessie Love, Mary Alden as Mrs. Wiggs and Viva Ogden as Miss Hazy, the role she also played in the 1919 film. Paramount would redo the old chestnut story once more in 1942 featuring Fay Bainter with Hugh Herbert and Vera Vague in comic support. What makes this 1934 adaptation most noteworthy is the presence of second billed W.C. Fields as C. Eldsworth Stubbins, whose character isn't seen until 56 minutes into the story, and the third billed ZaSu Pitts as Tabitha Hazy, each offering uplifting moments to an otherwise sentimental drama.

    The story unfolds in the town of Masonville, Ohio, at the turn of the century. Elvira Wiggs (Pauline Lord) is a poor but devoted mother of five children, Billy (Jimmy Butler); Jimmy (Georgie Breakston); Asia (Carmencita Johnson); Australia (Edith Fellows); little Europena (Virginia Weidler), whose husband, Hiram (Donald Meek) has left them three years ago seeking fortune in Alaska. Living in a shantytown shack purchased by Hiram for which he owes a $25 mortgage to store owner Mr. Bagby (Charles Middleton), Elvira supports herself by washing and ironing for others. Even with the help of business-minded son, Billy, she's unable to come up with the much needed money used in place for extra mouths to feed being their dog, Klondike, and Billy's newly adopted but broken-down horse, Cuby. Regardless of the circumstances, Mrs. Wiggs continues to have a positive outlook on life as she prepares a good old-fashioned Thanksgiving dinner, even it it's leftover stew. Bob Redding, editor of the Masonville Daily Courier, and Lucy Olcott (Evelyn Vanable), his fiancée who lives in a mansion across town, are taken in by the Wiggs family and do all they can to help make their Thanksgiving more pleasurable. Lucy provides them with a traditional Thanksgiving turkey while Bob arranges for Jimmy to be hospitalized under a doctor's care for his bad cough and burning fever, and arranging for Billy to acquire theater tickets for the family so that they can attend a show at the Opera House. While there, the Wiggs family is entertained by comics (Shaw and Lee's "Why did the chicken cross the road"), circus acts and musical interludes to such songs as "Glow Little Glow Worm," "In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree" and "Listen to the Mockingbird." The passing of her Jimmy fails to dampen Mrs. Wiggs' spirits as she continues to be a good neighbor to Tabitha Hazy (ZaSu Pitts), a spinster lady who cannot cook, by secretly providing her a home cooked meal to serve her proposed mail order husband, Mr. Stubbins (W.C. Fields), as well as keeping her family together when the mortgage deadline and having their home foreclosed by Mr. Bagby draws near.

    While not quite an artistic achievement, MRS. WIGGS OF THE CABBAGE PATCH, in spite of its much needed background music and slow pacing, is a friendly sort of a movie. Remembered most as a W.C. Fields comedy, it's very much a showcase for Pauline Lord, whose name is unknown today. Virtually a stage actress with this and A FEATHER IN HER HAT (Columbia, 1935) to her screen credits, her quiet yet compelling performance, whether intentional or not, basically slows down the pace of the story, especially when moments where she's supposed to be angry is lacking when not being a little bit forceful. It's interesting to note how closely she resembles Fay Bainter, the Mrs. Wiggs in the 1942 remake, and how much Lord is nearly overshadowed by the supporting performances of little Virginia Weidler who threatens to hold her breath" whenever she doesn't get what she wants, the natural performances of the other kid actors; and of course ZaSu Pitts, whose scenes with the legendary Fields are hilarious, in fact, priceless, leaving one to wonder why they never were teamed again.

    During those bygone days of commercial TV when vintage movies such as this dominated the airwaves, MRS. WIGGS was properly presented annually during the Thanksgiving season. I seem to recall around 1972-73 when TV Guide (New York City edition) listed WNEW, Channel 5, in broadcasting the 1934 film only to actually show the 1942 remake, or visa versa, indicating why movies bearing the same names would go through the process of having one of them retitled to avoid confusion. Rarely shown on television since the late 1970s, MRS. WIGGS did go on display on video cassette in the late 1980s through bargain distributor of Good Times Video on LP speed with opening and closing credits in freeze frame mode instead of original slow fade in/ out process, the same print acquired by Turner Classic Movies for its June 11, 2001, broadcast during its star tribute to W.C. Fields.

    Without Fields and/or Pitts, MRS. WIGGS would definitely be nothing more than an sentimental melodrama gathering dust in some old film vault never to be shown again. Regardless, director Taurog gives it some splendor and charm that holds interest most of the way. At present it's more of a curio at best, especially as a rediscovery of the once popular stage actress Pauline Lord captured on film as Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch. (***)

  3. Anonymous

    August 1, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    I enjoy this movie immensely. You don’t have to think, you can just sit and laugh, or cry, or whatever it makes you feel like doing. I laugh, simply because I am not a teary person.

    This film stars Pauline Lord as Mrs. Wiggs, a woman who lives in a quaint almost-slum. If my memory serves me correctly, Pauline Lord was an established Broadway actress who played this role on the stage. She has it down pat, that’s for sure. The main problem I had with her performance, and it’s a small problem, is that she tends to be a little too soft-spoken. Seeing as my copy isn’t very good quality, there were long stretches when her mouth was moving and I didn’t hear anything. Then I turned up the volume on my TV–problem solved. Honestly, I thought she did a marvelous job…she defines the word "heartwarming." That sounds ridiculous, I know, but I just love her in this. I’ve never seen her in anything else, so perhaps this was one of those "Bring the Broadway star to relive her greatest triumph" things, like Shirley Booth.

    The best thing about this little movie, at least in my opinion, is ZaSu Pitts. She was a great dramatic actress until sound came in, when her singsong monotone undermined her ability. It’s displayed to good advantage here. Her first line in the movie is an example. She says something along the lines of "Animals just seem to run out from under me like chickens from under a hen." The way she says it just kills me. I feel bad for her though, losing her star status simply because she sounded like a bored tea kettle. Fortunately, though, one element of her silent screen acting remains. The character she plays, Miss Hazy (whom Mrs. Wiggs introduces to everyone as the maiden lady from next door), is a very flighty, nervous person, as spinsters are rumored to be. When she goes through her "book of sweethearts" and gets caught, her hands flutter about like panicked butterflies. She’s being awkward in an extremely graceful way–it’s difficult to explain. Miss Hazy finally gets her wish when her husband arrives, in the portly form of W.C. Fields. (Does "W.C." stand for "water closet," you think?) She probably regrets wishing, one has to think.

    The children in the film are suitably saccharine, but Virginia Weidler (from "The Philadelphia Story") is as obnoxious as kids come. She taunts Miss Hazy by holding her breath, saying "I’ll turn black in the face!" The other children were played by people I didn’t recognize. Billy, one of the two boys, is the "man" of the family, and acts as such. He isn’t above showing emotion though, as he cries with the best of them. Also of note is the awfully sway-backed horse Billy is given. That animal looked as though he’d had a rough life, but Mrs. Wiggs has a magic touch. The scene where they revive the almost dead horse is amusing, with Mrs. Wiggs telling the children to cheer for him but warning them against "overyelling." If they yell too loudly, they might tip him over and then they’d never get him up again. Once he’s finally on his feet, Mrs. Wiggs and Miss Hazy hold him up until they’re sure he can stand upright.

    All in all, a cute little movie. That’s the word for it–cute. If you don’t like sweet little greeting cards from yesteryear, then this isn’t your thing.

  4. Anonymous

    August 1, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    Years ago, a local independent television station aired this film every Thanksgiving morning because the opening set-piece of the film revolves around the impoverished Wiggs’ family’s hopes for, and endeavors to create, a bountiful Thanksgiving. Forty-five years later, this darling film is still our holiday tradition. Despite the melodrama and mawkishness, "Mrs. Wiggs" has much to recommend it, not the least of which being one of the only two Hollywood endeavors of the legendary stage actress, Pauline Lord; fans of W. C. Fields and ZaSu Pitts will find much to cheer as well. The recreation of late-19th century poverty has been prettied up, but one is not asked to engage in a sociological critique of conditions, but to enter into a simplicity of motivation and action that captures and compels the imagination. The only weak part of the story is the inclusion of a nod to the temperance sensibilities of the era (of the original play and the ’30s) in the scene between Mr. Bob, newspaper editor, and the town drunk. Kent Taylor looks decidedly uncomfortable in the scene, but it serves to introduce the character of the doctor with ties to the private hospital where Billy Wiggs ultimately dies. It is a placid little film with a surprising amount of activity for such circumscribed lives, which is the source of its charm. As in a Jane Austen novel, the minutiae of the everyday lives of ordinary people are endlessly fascinating. I would rate this film a ten because of my great affection for it, but that might be misleading to someone approaching it for different reasons, with different expectations. It is an artifact, yes; a piece of my personal history, certainly; but I suggest watching it with both mind and heart open wide, and judge for yourself.

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