Louis Calhern played Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes on Broadway for a couple of years in the Emmet Lavery play. When MGM decided to make this screen version, Lavery wrote the screenplay and John Sturges directed it. Calhern received his only Academy Award nomination playing the titled justice. Ann Harding plays Holmes’s longtime wife, the former Fanny Bowditch. The rest of the credited cast includes Eduard Franz as Judge Louis Brandeis, Philip Ober as Owen Wister (the supposed writer of this biography, and the film’s narrator), Ian Wolfe as “doom & gloom” Adams, Edith Evanson as Annie Gough, the Holmes’ housekeeper, and Richard Anderson, Jimmy Lydon, & Herbert Anderson as three of the Justice’s top Harvard law school graduate secretaries, each of whom served for one year. John Hamilton, appearing as Chief Justice White, Selmer Jackson as Mr. Amboy, a lawyer who appears before the court, Hayden Rorke as Graham, a reporter from the Boston Transcript who’s invited in by Mrs. Holmes, and Dan Tobin, as the real estate agent who sold the Holmes’s their Washington, D.C. home, are among the many actors who appear uncredited.
If you’re expecting much insight into Justice Holmes’s judicial philosophy, landmark decisions, or courtroom action, you’ll have to find it somewhere else. Other than a brief reference near the beginning about President Theodore Roosevelt’s dissatisfaction with Holmes’s first dissenting opinion and a few general comments from the narrator about Holmes, who later worked with Justice Brandeis as these two outsiders regularly offered disparate opinions that were eventually reconsidered (e.g. became more accepted), the story is strikingly apolitical. In fact, it’s more about Holmes long loving relationship with his wife and the surrogate parenting role they played in the lives of his many secretaries over thirty years. This historical drama begins in 1902, right after Boston judge Holmes (Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice) was appointed by Roosevelt to the Supreme Court, and continues for 30 years, through Fanny’s passing, and shortly after the time that he retired from the court at age 90 as the oldest serving Judge in the court’s history. —Classicfilmguide.com
One of Hollywood’s top action directors of the late 1950s and 1960s, John Sturges, for a time, was a name associated almost exclusively with large-scale action-adventure films. A one-time assistant in RKO’s blueprint department, Sturges spent most of his early career in the studio’s art department and editing room (an especially productive department, where directors Robert Wise and Mark Robson also got their starts), before joining David O. Selznick as a production assistant and later as an editor. He became a director in the U.S. Army Air Force, making documentary and training films, including Thunderbolt, in collaboration with veteran director William Wyler. He returned to Hollywood as a director and, for a time, made successful if fairly undistinguished films (mostly action or suspense) until 1954, when he took on Bad Day at Black Rock. Sturges, who had shown a knack for working with the increasingly difficult Spencer Tracy (in The People Against O’Hara), coaxed a great performance… read more