Little Man, What Now? – Blu-ray Review

4 Stars Borzage romantic drama debuts on Blu
little man what now screenshot

One of the most important early film pioneers in America, Carl Laemmle entered the world of nickelodeons after working as a bookkeeper and accountant in Chicago (he started one of the city’s first motion picture theaters). After moving to New York, he joined forces with several independent film companies – including his own Independent Moving Pictures (IMP) – to created what would become known as Universal Pictures in 1912. Over the next near quarter of a century, he – along with his son Carl Jr. – would oversee the company’s steady growth from a minor studio to one of Hollywood’s most notable major studios; Little Man, What Now? was one of the company’s prestige pictures during the Laemmle family’s twilight years running the studio. Previously released on MOD DVD by Universal, Kino has licensed the film for its Blu-ray debut.

Little Man, What Now? (1934)
Released: 04 Jun 1934
Rated: Passed
Runtime: 98 min
Director: Frank Borzage
Genre: Drama, Romance
Cast: Margaret Sullavan, Douglass Montgomery, Alan Hale
Writer(s): William Anthony McGuire, Hans Fallada
Plot: A young couple struggling against poverty must keep their marriage a secret in order for the husband to keep his job, as his boss doesn't like to hire married men.
IMDB rating: 7.2
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Universal
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 38 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Blue keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 08/09/2022
MSRP: $24.99

The Production: 4.5/5

“On presenting ‘Little Man, What Now?’ to the screen I strove to render a social service. The story of Little Man is the story of Every Man – and the question of ‘What Now?’ is the World’s daily problem, a problem that men can only hope to overcome by a courage born of great faith in the hearts of women. Against the tide of time and chance, all men are little – but in the eyes of a woman in love, a man can become bigger than the whole world.” – Carl Laemmle (final title card of the film)

In early 1930’s Weimar Germany, Hans Pinneberg (Douglass Montgomery) is a business agent living in poverty with his pregnant wife Emma “Lammchen” (Margaret Sullavan). Their marriage is kept secret from his boss (DeWitt Jennings) – who wants to have Hans marry his daughter – but once the secret is revealed, Hans is dismissed. Moving to Berlin, Hans and Emma move in with Hans’ stepmother (Catherine Doucet) while Hans finds a job in a department store, but this too ends with his dismissal when he insults a customer while trying to keep pace with his coworkers. With each successive setback and the country seemingly falling apart around him, Hans realizes that Emma’s love is necessary to keep them together and strong in an increasingly mad world.

One of more underrated dramas of the 1930’s, Little Man, What Now? is also one of Frank Borzage’s best films overall. Adapted from the novel by Hans Fallada – which was previously adapted into a movie in Germany a year prior to this adaptation’s release – the movie was one of the first Hollywood movies to deal with the peripheral conditions in late Weimar era Germany that led to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis; however, the movie does not directly mention either. Also, as one of the last movies before the more rigorous enforcement of the Production Code – which started just weeks after this movie hit theaters – the film strikingly and wonderfully shows the unbridled (yet still wholesome) love that Hans and Emma have for each other; special mention should go to cinematographer Norbert Brodine for the luminous camera work here. Finally, Borzage shows a steady pace and assured handling of the material, getting great performances from his actors and actresses. So, while it may not be the first movie that comes to mind when talking about Borzage’s career, Little Man, What Now? is still one of the idealistic auteur’s finest hours as a director and one that’s absolutely worth rediscovering.

As the top billed star, Margaret Sullavan has one of her best performances as Emma; she would later go on to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for Three Comrades (1938), one of three more films she would work on with director Frank Borzage (one of those – The Mortal Storm – was also one of four she would appear in alongside James Stewart early in his career). As Hans, Douglass Montgomery also has one of his best film roles; after The Cat and the Canary (1939), he would enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force during WWII and – after the war ended – he would appear in a handful of films in the UK before leaving the film industry. As Hans’ stepmother with a notorious reputation (who also allows Hans and Emma to stay with her when things get tough), Catherine Doucet casts a solid impression in her part; her appearance here was part of alternating between the stage and silver screen as a character actress until bowing out of acting with an uncredited appearance in William Wyler’s Detective Story (1951). Filling out the cast here are DeWitt Jennings as Hans’ first boss Kleinholz, Bodil Rosing as his wife, Muriel Kirkland as his daughter (whom he wants Hans to marry), Donald Haines as his son, Fred Kohler and Mae Marsh as the Goebblers, Etienne Girardot as Hans’ department store boss Spanfuss, Alan Mowbray as the actor Franz Schluter – the customer who Hans inadvertently insults – Alan Hale as Holger Jachman, Christian Rub as Herr Puttbreese, Paul Fix as Hans’ coworker Lauderback and future gossip columnist Hedda Hopper as a nurse.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film is presented in its original 1:37:1 aspect ratio, taken from a brand new 2K transfer created for this release. Film grain, gray scale and fine details are all presented and represented faithfully with only minor cases of scratches, tears and dirt present. This release is likely the best the movie will ever look on home video and bests the previous Universal MOD DVD release.

Audio: 5/5

The film’s original mono soundtrack is presented on a DTS-HD Master Audio track for this release. Dialogue, sound mix and music score by Arthur Kay (credited as musical director, uncredited as composer) are all presented faithfully with minimal cases of crackling, flutter, distortion, popping or hissing present. Overall, this is likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video, easily besting the previous Universal MOD DVD.

Special Features: 3/5

Commentary by filmmaker Allan Arkush & film historian/filmmaker Daniel Kremer – Recorded for this release, Arkush and Kremer have a spirited discussion on the film and its two chief members of the cast and crew – director Frank Borzage and actress Margaret Sullavan.

Bonus KLSC Trailers – The Good Fairy, Back Street (1941), The Cat and the Canary, Desire, The Gilded Lily, Peter Ibbetson & Love Before Breakfast

Overall: 4/5

While it was one of Universal’s biggest box office disappointments of the 1930’s, Little Man, What Now? is still a potent and well made romantic drama that showcased the talents of actress Margaret Sullavan and another testament to the transcendent “love conquers all” ideal that Frank Borzage usually implemented in his films. Kino once again does a great job in bringing this unjustly neglected film to Blu-ray with a solid HD transfer and an engaging commentary track as a special feature. Highly recommended and worth upgrading from the Universal MOD DVD.

Mychal has been on the Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2018, with reviews numbering close to 300. During this time, he has also been working as an assistant manager at The Cotton Patch – his family’s fabric and quilting supplies business in Keizer, Oregon. When not working at reviewing movies or working at the family business, he enjoys exploring the Oregon Coast, playing video games and watching baseball in addition to his expansive collection of movies on DVD, Blu-ray and UHD, totalling over 3,000 movies.

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Supporting Actor
Jan 13, 2004
I am so glad that Kino released this film on Blu-ray. I am very happy with my purchase and highly recommend it.
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