ON BORROWED TIME could well have been the inspiration for Rod Serling’s THE TWILIGHT ZONE with it’s story of death stopped by an old man’s wish. The film is an examination of what could happen should such an occurrence come about. Life moves on and if death is halted in it’s tracks, what builds up can be worse. The film is based on a play by Paul Osborn that was itself based on a novel by Lawrence Edward Watkin.
Sir Cedric Hardwicke plays Mr. Brink, the suit clad, with a snap brimmed hat, personification of death. He appears to old Julian Northrup, Gramps, who’s feeling “mighty” tired lately, only to be driven off by the cantankerous old man.
Mr. Brink had already appeared in a short sequence to open the film standing along the road when a car pulls over and a man offers him a ride. Mr. Brink declines and the man says, “I thought you signaled.” Not yet was the answer. The anonymous driver was played by an uncredited Hans Conrad, very young and likely just starting his career. The next car that stops Mr. Brink accepts the ride from a young couple who crash later down the road and both are killed. The man was a doctor, the son of old Julian.
Pud, the couple’s child, is left in the care of his grandparents, though Granny, Nellie Northrup(Beulah Bondi), has reservations about their ability to raise the boy. She’s sickly and old Julian is confined to a wheelchair. Lionel Barrymore had broken a hip twice and used a wheelchair by then, though he could stand for a short period. Granny was also influenced by a scheming relative.
Demetria Ripple(Elly Malyon) is the sister of the boy’s mother, a rather severe looking woman both in manner and dress. An old maid, she’s forver poking her nose into people’s business, trying to get Granny to fire Marcie, the young housekeeper, because-gasp-she actually was seen kissing her fiance in the park. She wants to adopt Pud and get him away from his Gramps. Not to mention getting control of the rather substantial inheritance left the boy.
Granny soon goes, giving up the fight, and accepts Mr. Brink’s hand.
And when he comes once more for Gramps, the old man tricks him. We’d seen earlier when a neighbor boy is caught stealing apples, the old man wish he could keep people up the tree until he lets the down. The boy catches a suspender on a limb, then Pud’s hands seem stuck to a branch until Gramps tells him to let go and drop. The old man asks Mr. Brink to climb up and get him one last apple before he goes with death. Suddenly Mr. Brink can’t come down and death stops everywhere in the world. Even down to a fly.
Except the tree is now deadly. Gramps has a fence built around the tree and only he has the key to the gate. All this has Aunt Demetria and others believing him crazy. No one but Pud and he can se or hear Mr. Brink(which tells us something).
The aunt is trying to get him declared insane, the doctor is on her side, and they come for him late one night. He pulls out an old horse pistol and fires a shot into the gut of the man from the asylum, who falls over, then the next day at the hospital complains of a stomach ache. The doctor is suddenly convinced after performing a series of experiments and finds he can’t kill anything. Until he ties a mouse to a fishing line and touches the tree over the fence.
Then begins the conversations about what Gramps is doing to the world. Gramps is resolute until the worst happens and he has to make a decision he hates.
A superior film I thought, though the Wikipedia article says it wasn’t as effective as the play. Gramps and Pud grow pretty close and the language gets a bit salty between them(the Hays code instituted a few years before had forced them to tone it down.
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