Of Human Hearts is one of those poignant family dramas remembered fondly by older audiences but neglected by DVD marketers who shun religious themes. It's a film that tells a story, rather than just a bunch of stuff that happens - a story about austere Reverend Ethan Wilkins, played perfectly by Walter Huston (Rain, Dodsworth, The Devil and Daniel Webster) who takes a position as the new preacher in Pine Hill Ohio, bringing his wife Mary, played by Beulah Bondi (On Borrowed Time, So Dear To My Heart) and young son Jason, portrayed as a boy by Gene Reynolds (who appeared in many movies as a boy, including In Old Chicago, Boys Town, and Love Finds Andy Hardy, and went on to direct many TV episodes including Leave It To Beaver, MASH, Lois and Clark - The New Adventures of Superman, and Touched By An Angel).
Ethan is humble but strict, emphasizing courtesy and generosity while denouncing pride and selfishness with stern discipline. Jason is practical and wants to become a doctor. His curiosity provokes his fathers wrath, and as he grows into a young man, later portrayed by James Stewart (It's A Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, etc.), he continues to defy him, at one point declaring "I'd rather save bodies than souls any day!" He runs away to medical school, often sending for money from his mother, who gradually sells her personal posessions to fund him, though he never returns to visit.
Civil War ensues, and Jason is one of the Union's best doctors, trying to save limbs rather than amputate whenever possible, though still neglecting his own parents. He's finally shamed by the President himself, Abraham Lincoln, played excellently by John Carradine (The Grapes of Wrath, House of Frankenstein, Bluebeard, Peggy Sue Got Married, etc. etc. etc.).
This is still a great movie for the whole family, probably even more to the point in modern times, with relevant demonstrations of selfishness, pride, humility, courtesy, and transient material values. It's one of the first and best of those poignant family classics like A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, I Remember Mama, Friendly Persuasion, etc., and a bit of a tear-jerker.
The terrific cast include a number of great character actors including Guy Kibbee (Little Lord Fauntleroy, Captain January), Charles Coburn (The Devil and Miss Jones, Kings Row), Ann Rutherford (Annie Laurie, Gone With The Wind, Andy Hardy series), Gene Lockhart (A Christmas Carol, That's The Spirit, Miracle On 34th Street, Going My Way, etc. etc.), Charley Grapwin (The Wizard of Oz, Grapes of Wrath, Ellery Queen series), Clem Bevens, Sterling Holloway (Remember the Night, Meet John Doe, Dumbo, Bambi, Peter and the Wolf, Winnie The Pooh, etc. etc.), Minor Watson, Ward Bond, and others.
This one is not to be missed, and should be on DVD.