Always Goodbye (1938)

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This film was viewed for the Barbara Stanwyck Filmography Project. To see more reviews from this project, visit the project index!

Margot Weston (Barbara Stanwyck) is waiting for her fiance in the park, where they plan to meet up and head to the courthouse to wed. Though she makes small talk with another waiting bride about the prospect of being stood up, Margot is sure her man will arrive any minute. They’re truly in love.

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(Image via Film Affinity)

But fate is not on the young couple’s side. Margot’s fiance is killed that day, in a car wreck. Margot contemplates jumping into the river, but is stopped by Jim Howard (Herbert Marshall).

Jim learns that young Margot is pregnant with her fiance’s child, and decides to help her. He takes her to a maternity hospital where, several months later, she delivers a son. With no home, no job, and few prospects for a better future, Jim arranges for Margot’s son to be adopted by Phillip Marshall (Ian Hunter) and his wife Jane.

Jim’s kindness doesn’t end there: he helps Margot find a job at a dress shop owned by his friend Harriet (Binnie Barnes), before he leaves town on a boat trip.

Five years later, Jim arrives back in town to find that Margot is a success, about to head to Paris for a dress-buying trip. But will her now-bright future be derailed when she happens to meet her long-lost son, now five-year-old Roddy (Johnnie Russell), on the way to Paris?

Always Goodbye was directed by Sidney Lanfield. The film was written by Kathryn Scola and Edith Skouras.

Most synopses you will find for this film around the internet focus on the romantic drama/love triangle aspect of the plot. While that does play a part, the real story is that of a woman’s experience with adoption, and the years-long journey her decision takes her on.

Stanwyck’s character in this film is somewhat of a tragic one. She loses her husband-to-be before having his baby, and then chooses to give up the child for adoption. She knows this decision will give the child a better life, but in doing so, she loses her only connection to the man she lost. Stanwyck’s performance is absolutely heartbreaking in those early scenes of giving up her child.

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(Image via Doctor Macro)

But the character is also inspiring. She picks herself up, finds a job, and becomes successful, seeming to come to terms with her past and the adoption decision. Stanwyck often took on characters like this — women who overcame hardship to find some form of success — perhaps as a reflection of her own life’s journey, from a disadvantaged childhood as an orphan to a successful career in Hollywood.

As Jim (Herbert Marshall) says to Margot in the film, “There’s a penalty along the line somewhere,” regardless of the decision made. Though Margot accepts her own decision to give her son up for adoption, when she reconnects with him, she sees the “penalty” in the form of the child’s soon-to-be stepmother. After the death of his wife several years down the line, Roddy’s adopter is engaged to Jessica, portrayed by Lynn Bari.

The film’s portrayal of this character, especially in contrast with Margot, is a bit too clear-cut of a “good vs. evil” tale for me. Clearly, Roddy would be much better off with Margot in his life. Erasing this “competition” between the two potential mothers would have allowed for a deeper exploration of Margot’s own internal reaction to reconnecting with her son.

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(Image via Doctor Macro)

But Stanwyck and Bari do share a pretty great confrontation scene, and Stanwyck’s scenes with Johnnie Russell are cute. Their re-connection is emotionally effective, but they also get to have a lot of fun, such as one scene in which they ride scooters together on the ship’s deck.

While perhaps not unfamiliar in plot, nor groundbreaking in its handling of the effects of adoption on birth parents, Always Goodbye is a well-made film with (of course) a wonderful, emotional lead performance by Stanwyck. For a real tear-jerker, stick with Stella Dallas, but this story of a mother’s sacrifice is also well worth watching.

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