The Gift of Love is a remake of 1946’s Sentimental Journey, with Lauren Bacall in the role originated by Maureen O’Hara. Upon learning that she hasn’t long to live, Bacall, the devoted wife of Robert Stack, adopts young Evelyn Rudie so that her husband will never be lonely. After his wife’s death, however, the pragmatic Stack grows weary of little Evelyn, who prefers a “fantasy world” to real life. Stack returns the girl to the orphanage, whereupon Bacall’s spirit intervenes to set things right. The material was maudlin back in 1946, and even more so in 1958; still, it’s nice to see that Lauren Bacall could play a sweet, benign role when given the opportunity.
A sticky-sweet confection that many viewers will find just to their liking, The Gift of Love will also be considered as way too much for many modern viewers. Certainly, there’s no denying that Gift exists solely to tug at the heartstrings and to provide the appropriate warm and fuzzy feelings to which the film’s fans respond so readily. Manipulative in the extreme, Gift would have benefited from a more measured approach to its subject matter; it is possible to provoke strong emotions without journeying so far overboard as does Gift. Director Jean Negulesco should have known better, having demonstrated in other films a capability to make sheer melodrama into a much more satisfying cinematic meal. Here, Negulesco seems to have shrugged his shoulders at the material and given in to its maudlin aspects, rather than trying to find a way to leaven it with humor or a more interesting approach. He does get a lovely little performance out of Lauren Bacall, playing a simpler character than was her wont and demonstrating that she could handle “charm” roles as easily as some of the actresses more often associated with such parts. As the child, Evelyn Rudie is shamelessly manipulative, but effectively so. Coming off least well is Robert Stack, who seems out of his element here.