Jalna is one of DM's lesser-known films. Based on the novel of Canadian life by author Mazo de la Roche, Jalna centers on the Whiteoaks family who, for generations, have prospered as farmers on the vast estate of Jalna. Gran, (Jessie Ralph) the 99 year old matriarch, rules with an acid tongue over the rest of the family that includes brothers Renny (Ian Hunter) who runs the estate, Eden (DM) a rather self-centered poet, Piers (Theodore Newton) a bit of a black sheep, sister Meg (Peggy Wood) whose life is spent pining over her former suitor, two bachelor uncles, and two younger brothers. After Eden and Piers both bring brides to Jalna on the same day, life there will never be the same again.
When a publisher in New York accepts his poems, Eden leaves Jalna for the states. Arriving, Alayne Archer, the publisher's assistant, meets him and the two soon fall in love and marry. Taking her back to Jalna to the delight of his family, Eden's re-union is soon disrupted by the appearance of Piers and his new bride, Pheasant Vaughn, (Molly Lamont) daughter of Maurice Vaughn (Nigel Bruce) who jilted Meg twenty years before. Old wounds still being fresh, a ruckus ensues until cool-headed Renny smoothes out the situation.
Over time Eden and Alayne draw apart. Realizing she is in love with Renny (and that he loves her) Alayne proposes that she and Eden leave Jalna for New York and jobs with her old publisher. Knowing that he has the good life at Jalna, Eden refuses to leave. At the same time, he begins to fall for Pheasant and the two are seen together. Finding out, the jealous Piers threatens to kill them both. During a confrontation in the hills, Eden falls to his death running away from Piers. Stunned by the loss of her husband, Alayne leaves Jalna after attending Gran's one-hundredth birthday. Urged on by Gran, Renny chases after Alayne, Piers and Pheasant are re-united, and Meg and Maurice resume the romance they left off twenty years earlier.
Directed by John Cromwell who had many fine films to his credit including 1947's Dead Reckoning starring Humphrey Bogart and Lizabeth Scott, Jalna offers enjoyable viewing. Fast pacing keeps the otherwise melodramatic goings-on lively and the performances are all excellent. Variety, however, was not so kind in its review of Jalna. "On surface indications this story of Mazo de la Roche's would soon be destined for big business. It was one of the best-sustained sellers of its season and the fifth story in the Jalna series is even now clinging persistently to the bestseller lists. With a highly competent cast and skilled direction and photography it would seem to have everything, but it has failed badly out of town and is not going to do well at the Palace. The adaptor seems to have captured certain physical aspects without having been able to retain the poignant appeal of the book. It gets off to a slow opening, there is a dull episode of Eden in New York, and a waste of time as Wake, the youngest in the family, is permitted to roam from room to room playing his infantile jokes. This all combines to get the yarn off to a bad start and it never recovers. It doesn't quite capture the spirit of the author; fails to make the tangled lives important in audience interest. In the last analysis there is not much of a screen story for a base. It all translates as rather casual and ordinary. Few books do manage to carry their flavor to the screen and without the author's cunning Jalna goes flat in spots. It becomes too pattern with the striving for local color to bolster the uneventful story. The result is that an admirable cast has trouble in being convincing."