Of Human Hearts is a 1938 American drama film directed by Clarence Brown and starring Walter Huston, James Stewart and Beulah Bondi. Stewart plays a proud and ungrateful son who rebels against his preacher father and (after his father's death) neglects his poverty-stricken mother. Bondi was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Young Jason Wilkins (Gene Reynolds) has a stern but loving preacher father, Rev. Ethan Wilkins (Walter Huston), and a doting mother, Mary Wilkins (Beulah Bondi). Jason is highly intelligent and outgoing, but also proud and stubborn. His father must often beat him with a leather strap for his impertinence, pride, and rudeness. As a young man (James Stewart), Jason falls in love with beautiful Annie (Ann Rutherford). When Jason's father takes him circuit riding, Jason rebels at the bad food and awful living conditions, and has a fistfight with his father. This ruptures their relationship.
Jason goes to medical school, and becomes a doctor. He is increasingly neglectful of his parents, and when his father dies he arrives too late to speak with him one last time. Despite his mother's poverty, Jason repeatedly asks her for money, forcing her to sell her silver spoons, and eventually her wedding band, for food. The American Civil War breaks out, and she must sell Jason's beloved horse Pilgrim to pay for his fancy $70.00 officer's uniform. When Jason fails to write to her for 2 years, Mrs. Wilkins assumes that he is dead and writes a letter to President Abraham Lincoln (John Carradine) asking for information in locating his grave. Lincoln issues an order requiring the young captain to appear before him without delay. Jason arrogantly assumes that he is about to be commended for his actions as a battlefield surgeon. Instead, with the two of them alone in his office, the President accuses him of possessing the worst human quality of all, ingratitude.
Principal photography occurred from October 18 to December 20, 1937. The working title of the film and the title of the novel on which it was based, Benefits Forgot, was taken from a quotation in William Shakespeare's As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7: "Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky, that dost not bite so nigh as benefits forgot." The title of the picture, Of Human Hearts, was selected by MGM after a nationwide contest was advertised on the studio's radio program, Good News of 1938, to determine who could select the best title. The prize, $5,000, was awarded to Greenville, South Carolina, high school student Roy Harris. In addition to the prize money, Harris was also a specially invited guest at the film's world premiere, which was held in his hometown.
Portions of the film were shot on location at the Agoura Ranch in Agoura, California, and at Lake Arrowhead, California. According to information in news items and the presskit, over 700 people worked at the Arrowhead location for more than two weeks on a specially built village, the largest special location site built by MGM since The Good Earth. A Life magazine article noted that the film's battle scene, which was not based on a specific battle, cost $50,000, and required 2,000 men to film. Life also noted that the picture was one of a "new cycle of interest in the Civil War aroused by the novel Gone With the Wind.
Robert McWade, who portrayed Dr. Lupus Crumm in the picture, died after completing his role. According to news items in the Hollywood Citizen-News and Motion Picture Daily, director Clarence Brown had told McWade, "Well, Bob, you played your last scene. You might as well go home," just before McWade died of heart failure.