As Welles himself says, seventeen - "that period which is almost a full stop in the involved sentence of a man's life" - is a dangerous time to fall in love. Anyone who has done so will recognise the comic heartbreak of this fizzing story of adolescent devotion. If bad poetry has a home it is young love, and Tarkington's mastery of the form is just one of the many little touches which make this story so painfully true.
If ever a role were miscast, Orson Welles as a daft, lovestruck seventeen-year old would be hard to beat, yet he pulls it off with great flair. Somehow his whiny, petulant performance makes the whole thing all the more believable. Whether this story makes you long for a lost youth of gleeful, innocent passions or shudder at the thought of ever having to go through it all again will depend entirely on personal experience.
Seventeen was a hugely successful novel, given a full-page review in the New York Times and sitting for weeks on the best-seller lists. The precision with which Tarkington delves into the world of the lovestruck adolescent is likely to strike a chord with anyone who has fallen in love at a young age, as well as providing a very strong case for the criminalisation of baby talk. Pulitzer-favourite Tarkington also wrote The Magnificent Ambersons, which Welles adapted for radio the following year, and more famously for his butchered second film in 1948. Seventeen is now in the public domain and can be read and downloaded here.
Orson Welles (William Sylvanus Baxter), Betty Garde (Mrs. Baxter), Ray Collins (Mr. Parcher), Mary Wickes (Mrs. Parcher), Joseph Cotten (Genesis), Ruth Ford (Lola Pratt, the Baby Talk Girl), Marilyn Erskine (Jane), Elliott Reid (Cousin George), Pattee Chapmen (Rannie), Morgan Farley (Joe Bullitt).