Late George Apley, The (1947): Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Literary Version of Marquand’s Novel, Starring Ronald Colman, Peggy Cummins, Mildred Natwick

Joseph L. Mankiewicz directed The Late George Apley, a tale of a stuffy, upper-class Bostonian forced to adjust to a changing world, starring Ronald Colman.

The script was based on John P. Marquand’s novel of the same name and subsequent play by Marquand and George S. Kaufman.

Set in 1912, the tale centers on George Apley (Ronald Colman), a stuffy, self-satisfied member of Boston’s upper class, confident of the superiority of his family; he likes to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson. For 18 years, he has hosted Thanksgiving dinners at his home.

His comfortable, predictable world is overturned when he learns, to his horror, that both son and his daughter have fallen in love with non-Bostonians–not with the partners he had arranged.

Son John, intended for his shy cousin Agnes, has fallen for Myrtle, the daughter of a successful manufacturer who lives in Worcester. Daughter Eleanor is in love with Howard Boulder, a lecturer at Harvard who later loses his position. Among Boulder’s offenses, besides coming from New York and attending Yale, is teaching that Emerson was radical.

George begins to see himself through others’ eyes when he is rejected for president of the bird-watching club because of refusal to allow undesirable relative to be buried in the family plot and his actions to separate the young lovers.

Compromised Ending

Despite the film’s title, unlike the book and play, George Apley does not die in the film.

The movie betrayed its literary origins with a stodgy narrative heavily reliant on dry and rhetorical dialogue that even Mankiewicz, a director with flair for staging verbose conversation, could have saved.

Ronald Colman as George Apley
Vanessa Brown as Agnes Willing, fiancee of Apley’s son
Richard Haydn as Horatio Willing, George’s cousin
Charles Russell as Howard Boulder, lecturer who falls for Apley’s daughter
Richard Ney as John Apley, George’s son
Percy Waram as Roger Newcombe, George’s brother-in-law
Mildred Natwick as Amelia Newcombe, George’s forceful sister
Edna Best as Catherine Apley, George’s wife
Nydia Westman as Jane Willing
Peggy Cummins as Eleanor Apley, George’s daughter