Steve Bradford (James Cagney) is a successful businessman who has never married but now misses the son he denied twenty years ago and whom he has never known. Steve butts heads, albeit pleasantly, with Ann Dempster (Barbara Stanwyck), who runs the adoption agency that could help Bradford be united with his child, but Ann is opposed to the idea. Steve tries various tactics, including searching for the birth mother he abandoned years ago, and then taking the agency to court. As Steve fights his battle, he becomes closer to a young, unwed mother, Suzie (Betty Lou Keim), who must give up her baby even though she doesn't want to. These Wilder Years couldn't exactly be classified as unpredictable -- and one senses the whole business could have been handled more intelligently by everyone concerned -- but it's a nice, absorbing picture with very good performances. Stanwyck and Cagney not only got along famously while the film was being made, but play marvelously together -- two solid pros uplifting their material. There is also fine work from Walter Pidgeon [Forbidden Planet] as Steve's lawyer; Edward Andrews [Youngblood Hawke] as another small-town lawyer; Don Dubbins as the young man in question; Dean Jones as the son-in-law of the birth mother; Dorothy Adams [Laura] as Aunt Martha; and others. Mary Lawrence and dancer Marc Platt have not a word of dialogue but they certainly register in that moment when Mr. and Mrs. Callahan are given their new baby by Ann. And there's a nice score by Jeff Alexander, as well. One supposes the title was concocted to make this seem like another story of rebellious youth, which it isn't.
Verdict: Smooth, very well-played, and poignant. ***.