So Big (1932 film)

So Big!

Theatrical release poster
Directed by William A. Wellman
Produced by Jack L. Warner
Written by J. Grubb Alexander
Robert Lord
Based on So Big
(1924 novel)
by Edna Ferber
Starring Barbara Stanwyck
Music by W. Franke Harling
Cinematography Sidney Hickox
Edited by William Holmes
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • April 30, 1932 (1932-04-30) (US)
Running time
81 minutes
Country United States
Language English

So Big! is a 1932 American Pre-Code drama film directed by William A. Wellman and starring Barbara Stanwyck. The screenplay by J. Grubb Alexander and Robert Lord is based on the 1924 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same title, without the exclamation point, by Edna Ferber.

So Big! was the second full-scale screen adaptation of the Ferber novel. The first was a 1924 silent film of the same name directed by Charles Brabin and starring Colleen Moore. A 1953 remake was directed by Robert Wise and starred Jane Wyman.[1] The story was also made as a short in 1930, with Helen Jerome Eddy.


Following the death of her mother, Selina Peake (Barbara Stanwyck) and her father (Robert Warwick) move to Chicago, where she enrolls in finishing school. Her father is killed, leaving her penniless, and Selina's friend Julie Hemple (Mae Madison) helps her find a job as a schoolteacher in a small Dutch community. Selina moves in with the Poole family and tutors their son Roelf (George Brent). Selina eventually marries immigrant farmer Pervus De Jong (Earle Foxe) and gives birth to Dirk (Hardie Albright), nicknamed "So Big", who becomes the primary focus of her life. When Pervus dies, Selina struggles to keep the farm afloat so she can afford to finance her son's education, hoping he will become an architect.

Dirk becomes involved with a married woman, who arranges for him to get a job as a bond salesman in her husband's firm, making much more money than as an apprentice architect. Eventually he meets and falls in love with unconventional artist Dallas O'Mara (Bette Davis), but she refuses to marry him because of his lack of ambition. Roelf, now a renowned sculptor, meets Dirk and, learning Selina is his mother, reunites with his former tutor. She is pleased to know her influence helped mold Roelf's character, even as she accepts her own son's weaknesses and disappointments.


Cast notes:

Critical reception

Andre Sennwald of The New York Times called the film "a faithful and methodical treatment of Miss Ferber's novel, but without fire or drama or the vitality of the original." He added, "A fine actress, Miss Stanwyck seems ill-suited to a role that hustles her in jerky steps from girlhood to old age; a role in which she is asked to express rugged grandeur and the beauty of a life well-lived from behind a mask of grease paint ... Little Dickie Moore is delightful as the younger So Big. Bette Davis ... is unusually competent."[4]

Variety noted, ""Wellman's endeavor at kaleidoscopic flashes in the life of Selina Dejong ... make for a choppy continuity ... As it is, the 83 minutes are overly long, but in toto, it's a disjointed affair."[5]

The New Yorker considered Barbara Stanwyck's performance "the best work she has yet shown us",[5] while the New York Daily Mirror called her "exquisite" and added, "Her great talent as an actress never has been demonstrated more brilliantly. A sparkling performance. She is magnificent.".[5]


  1. Landazuri, Margarita. "So Big! (1932)"
  2. 1 2 Davis, Bette, A Lonely Life. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons 1962. ISBN 0-425-12350-2, pp. 150-151.
  3. Chandler, Charlotte, The Girl Who Walked Home Alone: Bette Davis, A Personal Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster 2006. ISBN 0-7432-6208-5, p. 79.
  4. Senwald, Andre. "So Big (1932): An Edna Ferber Novel" The New York Times (April 30, 1932)
  5. 1 2 3 Landazuri, Margarita. "So Big! (1932)"

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