The Magnificent Yankee
Adapted from Emmet Lavery’s play, the life of Oliver Wendell Holmes is traced from his joining the US Supreme Court, and in each year he is served by a different secretary from Harvard.
Author Owen Wister (Philip Ober) narrates the true story of Oliver Wendell Holmes (Louis Calhern), who moves to Washington in 1902. His wife Fanny Bowditch Holmes (Ann Harding) has already bought their new home. Holmes and Fanny visit the Civil War battlefield where he fought. Henry Adams (Ian Wolfe) visits Holmes in his library and warns him about President Theodore Roosevelt.
Fanny is upset that they have no children. Holmes takes on Clinton (James Lydon) as his secretary for one year and forbids him to marry. Holmes tells Fanny that he will treat him as a son. Holmes takes the oath as a justice on the US Supreme Court.
In the spring Holmes goes for a ride in the new car of secretary Reynolds (Richard Anderson). Holmes gives his dissenting opinion in the Northern Securities case. Reporter Graham from Boston arrives, and Fanny makes a statement about TR, who criticized Holmes for his opinion about trusts. Louis Brandeis (Eduard Franz) visits for a day.
Secretary Baxter (Herbert Anderson) tells Holmes that he is getting married and must resign, but Fanny pleads with Holmes to let Baxter stay on.
In 1916 Holmes and Fanny dine out. Adams tells them that President Wilson is going to appoint Brandeis to the court. His hearings in the Senate last for six months. Holmes brings Owen home. Adams comes in, and Brandeis arrives. Brandeis learns that he was confirmed, and Holmes celebrates with him.
In 1917 Holmes and Brandeis discuss child labor and the Debs case about free speech during war. Holmes says that a “clear and present danger” makes a difference. In another case Holmes dissents with Brandeis. Eventually the court comes around to their dissents.
Holmes and Fanny celebrate his 80th birthday in 1921. All his secretaries wish him well, and he calls each of them “Son.” Holmes makes a speech to his “sons at law,” saying that life is painting a picture. They hope he will be chosen as chief justice; but Holmes doubts that he will because the President wants a conservative.
Holmes says that paying taxes is buying civilization. In 1929 Holmes and Fanny use their new elevator. Holmes tells Brandeis that he is worried about Fanny. Holmes brings her violets. She is in bed and warns him that she won’t be with him much longer. She tells him to go on in the court. He reads aloud to her.
Holmes visits Fanny’s tomb every day. On his 90th birthday he speaks on the radio, saying that work is never done as long as one lives. On the court Holmes finds himself dozing, and he tells Brandeis he is going to retire. On Inauguration Day in 1933 Owen visits Holmes and learns that he reads Plato in Greek. Holmes tells his former secretary Norton of his will to leave his wealth to the US Government. Norton reads from The Song of Roland to him, and President Roosevelt has come to call on him.
This sentimental biography portrays the happy marriage of a Republican judge who chose a liberal Jew as his best friend. He relished debate, and his personality and intellect certainly must have influenced his many secretaries.