Edward, My Son (1949): Cukor Melodrama Starring Spencer Tracy and Deborah Kerr in her First Oscar Nomination

With “Edward, My Son,” George Cukor became the first American director to work at the Metro studio in England since World War II. Based on Noel Langley’s hit play, the movie concerns an egotistical father (played by Spencer Tracy) who ruthlessly drives his son to suicide and his wife to alcoholism. Cukor proved once more that he could turn a theatrical work into effective cinema.

“Edward, My Son” is not only an underrated work, but stands out in Cukor’s repertoire for featuring a male protagonist. Most of Cukor’s films, before and after this one, featured strong female protagonists. This was the main reason why his label, a woman’s director, persisted.

The part of the alcoholic and bitter wife was assigned to the young British actress, Deborah Kerr. Despite initial reservations, Cukor was soon taken with Kerr, who showed a knack for acting with a “disarming reality.” Cukor predicted that, despite Kerr’s young age, she would be extraordinarily good, healing the “scars” of her two lousy MGM pictures.

Stylistically, Edward My Son boasted long, uninterrupted sequences that would distinguish Cukor’s later films. Two Cukor gimmicks marked this movie.  First, Tracy addresses the camera directly, and the title character, Edward, never appears on screen.

Unfolding in a succession of brief scenes, the film was actually “stolen” by the actors who played the smaller parts, instead of being illuminated by the central character.

In fact, Cukor knew that the father’s role was quite superficial. Moreover, in its transfer to the screen, the story became safer and tamer. For censorship reasons, there is retribution in the film, which didn’t exist in the play–setting fire to his shop to collect insurance, the father goes to prison.

Oscar Alert

Oscar Nominations: 1

Best Actress: Deborah Kerr

Oscar Context

This was the first of Deborah Kerr’s six Oscar nominations. She was awarded an Honorary Oscar as compensation for having lost six times the legit contest.   

In 1949, the winner was Olivia de Havilland, who won her second Best Actress for William Wyler’s “The Heiress.”  The other nominees in what was a rather weak year were Jeanne Crain in “Pinky” (the least deserving of the five), Susan Hayward in “My Foolish Heart,” and Loretta Young in Come to the Stable.”