Ah, Wilderness! (film)

Ah, Wilderness! is a 1935 American comedy/drama film adaptation of the Eugene O'Neill play of the same name. Directed by Clarence Brown, the film stars Wallace Beery and features Lionel Barrymore, Eric Linden, Cecilia Parker, Spring Byington, and a young Mickey Rooney. Rooney stars as Nat in MGM's musical remake Summer Holiday (1948).

Ah, Wilderness!
Film poster
Directed byClarence Brown
Produced byClarence Brown
Hunt Stromberg
Screenplay byAlbert Hackett
Frances Goodrich
Based onAh, Wilderness!
1933 play
by Eugene O'Neill
StarringWallace Beery
Lionel Barrymore
Mickey Rooney
Music byHerbert Stothart
Edward Ward
CinematographyClyde De Vinna
Edited byFrank E. Hull
Distributed byLoew's Inc.[1]
Release date
  • December 6, 1935 (1935-12-06)
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited States


June 1906 in an unnamed New England town. 17-year-old Richard Miller is about to graduate and go to Yale. He already feels worldly wise, thanks to reading Shaw, Wilde, The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam, Swinburne, Marxist tracts, etc. He adores Muriel McComber, but she is afraid of being kissed.

Richard’s father, newspaper editor Nat Miller is a kind, wise man. Richard has three siblings: older brother Arthur home from Yale; sister, Mildred, and Tommy, the youngest.

Uncle Sid and Cousin Lily live with the family. Sid keeps proposing, but she refuses, ostensibly because he once got involved with a bad woman; his not-so-secret drinking is the real problem. Sid has a new job, in Waterbury.

At graduation, Richard drops his valedictory speech and Nat reads it. Nat turns a burst of applause into a final acclamation, forestalling Richard’s planned Marxist call to arms. After the ceremony, Nat asks if Richard’s conscience will allow him to drive the family’s Stanley Steamer. Of course, he is thrilled and asks Muriel to come along.

On the morning of the Fourth, the street explodes in fireworks. Jobless, Uncle Sid reappears, saying he has the day off. Lily hints that she would accept a proposal now. Sid doesn’t act, and she is hurt.

Muriel's father storms in, accusing Richard of corrupting her morals. He gives Nat the letters and a farewell letter from Muriel, threatens to pull his advertising, then storms out.

“Samples of the new freedom,” Nat says, showing Richard’s letters to Sid, who reads aloud a stanza from Swinburne’s Laus Veneris.[2] He stops and they both read silently. “Hail and Hallelujah!” Nat whispers.[3] However, he is truly concerned. He tells Richard about Macomber’s visit; Shocked, Richard reassures his father: He plans to marry Muriel. When Richard reads the letter, he is heartbroken: “Geewhillickers!” he sobs, and bursts into tears.

Mildred goes to a box social, Nat and Sid go to a men’s club picnic, the women go to a hen party, and lovelorn Richard walks and walks. Arthur’s friend Wint asks Richard to go on a double date with “a couple of swift babies” that night.

The family reassembles at supper. Sid can barely stand. (Nat has given Sid his old job and they celebrated.) At the table, he has everyone laughing; but when he goes up for a nap, Lily says that they all encourage him—and maybe they shouldn’t. Richard blames women for driving men to drink and marches out to meet Wint.

In a hotel bar, Wint has disappeared and Richard is sitting with Belle, a floozy. His innocence is painfully obvious. At Belle’s nod, the bartender slips something into Richard’s sloe gin fizz. A customer tells the bartender that Richard is underage; he throws him out. When he learns he is the son of a newspaper editor, he throws Belle out.

Richard comes home drunk and miserable, declaiming “But he does not win who plays with Sin In the secret House of Shame."[4] Horrified, Essie assumes the worst. Sid takes charge. Later, Muriel and Richard meet;!she explains that her father made her write the letter. They finally kiss; Richard sighs,“Gosh, I Love You.”

He returns home, transported. “That’s love, not liquor,” Nat reassures Essie. Nat and Richard have s serious talk, about the fact that “no woman wants to give her love to a stupid drunk” and about women like Bette, “whited sepulchers” who can “ruin your whole life.” [5] Nat gives him a punishment that is no hardship—go to Yale and stick with it.

Sid and Lily are in the swing, drinking lemonade (Sid spikes it.) Mildred and Art are walking with their sweethearts. Macomber is reconciled. “We are completely surrounded by love.” Nat says. Richard kisses his parents and goes out to gaze blissfully at the moon. Nat quotes the Rubaiyat “‘Ah, that Spring should vanish with the rose’...Spring isn’t everything,” he says to Essie. “There’s a lot to be said for Autumn.. and Winter, if you’re together.”



The success of the film prompted MGM to use many of the cast in A Family Affair, the first of the Andy Hardy series.

See also


  1. Ah, Wilderness! at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. Foundation, Poetry (December 12, 2019). "Laus Veneris by Algernon Charles Swinburne". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved December 13, 2019.
  3. Sid reads aloud: “Lips that cling hard till the kissed face has grown, Of one same fire and colour with their own. Then ere one sleep.. “  and stops. The rest is: “... appeased with sacrifice, Where his lips wounded, there his lips atone."
  4. Oscar Wilde, The Ballad of Reading Gaol
  5. This is a reference to syphilis, which was still a devastating, deadly and essentially incurable scourge when this film was made. It would be more than a decade before the widespread availability of penicillin after World War II made cures possible.
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