Heavy doses of corn and soap combine to tell the story of how Don Ameche invented the land line.
Boston 1873. Bell is trying to teach deaf mutes how to speak. With him is George, the young son of Thomas Sanders (Gene Lockhart). He introduces Bell to businessman Gardner Hubbard (Charles Coburn) who has a daughter Mabel (Loretta Young) that can’t hear due to scarlet fever when she was a child. She can speak and read lips. Hubbard is interested in Bell’s other work on a telegraph. Bell falls for her almost instantly. She returns the favor.
Bell decides to give up his telegraph experiments and work on his latest idea…the telephone. It’s 1875 and things aren’t going well. He and electrical engineer Thomas Watson (Henry Fonda) have moved into a cheap room and continues the experiments. They’re broke and have a tough time finding anything to eat.
Finally in frustration he writes a letter to Mabel that he’s giving up the telephone idea. She isn’t having any of that. Gardner threatens to cut of all funds since he switched from the telegraph and refuses to allow Mabel to marry him. Bell has a eureka moment when the sound of a spring Watson is playing with is heard over a wire.
In 1876 the work and poverty continue. One day he sends Watson into another room to see if he can hear him. Nothing. Watson lays his head down on a desk. Bell has a brainstorm. He’ll use a couple drops of sulfuric acid. He manages to spill some on his leg and hollers, “Come in Watson ,I want you!” Watson hears him.. There’s no stopping him now.
He holds a demonstration at a hall in Salem,Massachusetts. Watson is twenty miles away in Boston. Receivers are hung throughout the hall. Everyone can hear Watson, a group of singers and a coronet player. Then the landlady comes in and demands they pay their rent or out they go. That makes the audience laugh and they no longer take the telephone seriously. They figure it’s just a novelty item. Sanders and Hubbard agree to continue to finance it. The New England Bell Company is formed.
Bell and Mabel are finally married. They’re going to set sail for England where a world renowned inventor gets him an audience with Queen Victoria. If she likes the invention there will be phones all over Buckingham Palace.
Then Western Union takes him to court and the movie gets interesting. It would have been a lot better if this section had been expanded and the first hour consolidated. Still it’s well worth seeing for the acting of Ameche. Also giving a stand out performance is Russell Hicks as prosecutor Mr.Barrows. Character actor Jonathan Hale has a brief appearance as the President of Western Union. Spring Byington is Mabel’s mother.