White Banners

White Banners is a 1938 Warner Brothers drama motion picture starring Claude Rains, Fay Bainter, Jackie Cooper, Bonita Granville, Henry O'Neill, and Kay Johnson.

Directed by Edmund Goulding and produced by Henry Blanke and Hal B. Wallis, the screenplay was adapted by Lenore J. Coffee, Abem Finkel and Cameron Rogers based on the 1936 novel of the same title by Lloyd C. Douglas.

The movie, Fay Bainter and others of the cast received very good reviews in the Los Angeles Times. Bainter was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance as Hannah Parmalee.


White Banners is set in a small town in Indiana, in 1919. On a dreary, cold and snowy day a peddler named Hannah Parmalee (played by Bainter) appears at the door of a kind couple, Paul Ward (played by Rains) and his wife, Marcia (played by Johnson), selling apple peelers. Asked by Mrs. Ward to come inside and warm up, Hannah sees they are struggling financially and are in need of some domestic help. She offers her services and becomes their cook and housekeeper for room and board.

Mr. Ward, a science teacher by day, is an inventor by night attempting to create something that will provide sufficient money for Marcia, their teenaged daughter Sally (played by Granville) and their new baby, to have some luxuries in life. Hannah, who is extremely wise and helpful, comes up with some good ideas. She persuades Ward to sell old and useless furniture to raise money and make a place for his work in the basement.

Their teenaged neighbor, Peter Trimble (played by Cooper), who is one of Ward's students at the school where he teaches, is the son of the richest man in town, Sam Trimble (played by O'Neill). Hannah is very pleased to know Peter and to be a part of his life. In her devotion to him, however, she is never able to indulge the motherly instinct she feels, except in an indirect way. He is very good at science and, after Hannah suggests that he set a good example for the boy, Ward asks young Trimble to become his assistant. Sally gets a crush on Peter and becomes his love interest.

Ward's invention, an "iceless icebox," is unintentionally revealed by Peter to some local mechanics, Joe Ellis (played by William Pawley) and his brother Bill (played by Edward Pawley). When the Ellis brother's steal it and have it patented, Peter feels so bad about what he did that he lies when Ward asks him about it. In the meantime, Sally becomes ill with pneumonia.

Hannah persuades Ward that it is best to "turn the other cheek" and to give young Peter another chance. Ward then develops a new and better feature for his invention, which is on its way to becoming a great electric refrigerator for homes. Sally recovers and she and her mother, Marcia, leave on a trip with the baby.

Another crisis arises, however, when Thomas Bradford (played by James Stephenson), a wealthy businessman from Chicago, arrives to discuss financing of Ward's invention. Hannah reveals to Ward that Peter Trimble is her son who she was forced to give up all those years ago because he was born out of wedlock. Sam Trimble adopted him after his own baby died, but Bradford is the boy's real father.

When Bradford finds out that Peter is his son he wants to claim him. Hannah, however, persuades him to leave him where he is and he does not reveal the truth to Peter.

The movie ends as Hannah, satisfied with the kind of young man her son has become, and that he is on the right path in life, leaves with Peter believing that his adoptive parents are his biological parents. She walks off into the wintry landscape just as she drifted into the Ward's household at the beginning.



Year Result Performer Award Category Role
1938 Nominated Fay Bainter Academy Award Best Actress in a Leading Role Hannah Parmalee


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