William Wellman debuted with many
low-budget "horse opera" movies before he was given a chance to show his
directorial skills in the war movie
about fighter pilots during World War I. He himself had been a pilot.
It is one of the more impressive war movies of the era.
The film, framed around the rivalry between two pilots, who are in love with the same auxiliary, captivated silent-film audiences with a series of daring shots, showing bombings, dives, aerial duels, shoot-downs, and then the behind-the-scenes life in the dormitories, where nice, fit young men chivalrously sacrificed themselves for their best friend. So successful was the film that Wellman had to make several nearly identical movies, and for years Hollywood continued to imitate it.
Jack grew up in a small town and always dreamed of becoming an aviator.
The daughter's neighbor, Mary, is full of life
and tries in vain to get his attention, but he treats her like an annoying
David is son of the richest family in town. He gets introduced to a pretty
newcomer, Sylvia. Jack too is mesmerized by her looks and manners.
When war breaks up, both young men enlist in the air force.
David barely survive a deadly encounter in the air with a fearless German count,
while Jack becomes a hero after shooting down Germany's famed air fortress.
Meanwhile, Mary has enrolled as an ambulance driver. She eventually finds her
beloved Jack in a night club, on the even of the big battle. Jack is drunk and
doesn't recognize her. She is depressed to see him in that condition, surrounded
by prostitutes. A French woman helps her get dressed like one of those girls.
She drags him into a bedroom where he falls asleep. She tenderly kisses his
hand and reminisces about their growing up together.
Alas, the military police are going around to pick up all the soldiers that
have to return immediately to the barracks. They find Mary dressed like
a prostitute and she gets expelled from the army.
The battle is a carnage. David's plane is shot down. Jack heroically leads the
triumph in the air and only at the end realizes that David's plane is missing.
David, however, has survived and is walking through enemy territory.
The following morning the ground battle rages on with thousands of soldiers
from all armies.
After eluding German soldiers, David steals a German plane. Jack spots
a German plane.
It's David who he is flying towards his base, but Jack,
convinced that David died in the
crash and eager to get his revenge, has no mercy and downs the German plane.
Only when he lands and walks to the plane does a radiant Jack realize that he
has just killed his best friend. Before dying David forgives him.
At the end of the war Jack returns home, welcomed by a triumphal parade.
David's parents forgive him too. Mary is there to wait for him.
The film is not so much about the melodramatic story but about the action scenes.
With the advent of sound,
Wellman embraced the gangster genre, in many ways related to the war genre.
Between 1931 and 1933 Wellman directed a huge number of films, mostly of
Public Enemy (1931),
the story of a young thug (Cagney) who rises to the top of the Chicago underworld and just when, having lost his best friend, he has decided to go straight he is killed by rivals, is a copy of
Mervyn Leroy's Little Caesar
that paved the way for the genre.
The character is underdeveloped, the others are weakly stereotyped. The moral is far too didactic.
The first scenes show an almost futuristic view of the metropolis.
Tom and Matt are little rascals. Despite his father's and his elder brother's
stern reproaches, Tom grows up to be a troublemaker. Years later, Tom and
Matt are small-time crooks. They get involved in a robbery that fails (one
of their accomplices is shot dead by the police). His brother Mike is just the
opposite: honest and kind. In 1919 he decides to join the army and leaves for
World War I. One year later, at the beginning of the Prohibition,
people stock up on alcohol. That creates opportunities for crooks like Tom and
Matt. They keep their day jobs, but the bootlegging-related jobs allow them
to buy nice clothes, buy a car and go to night clubs.
Their mentor, Paddy, hooks them up
with the owner of the city brewery, which has been shut down by the law, and
with the sleazy Nails, who runs a business of illegal alcohol sales: Tom and
Matt start working for Nails, convincing bars to buy the beer produced illegally
at the brewery. Mike comes back home. Tom and Matt bring beer to his welcome
dinner, but Mike refuses to drink it and accuses them of being murderers.
The two brothers part ways. Mike finds another low-pay job and takes care of
their mother. Tom gets more and more successful as a trusted gun, even killing
an old acquaitance, and falls for an easy blonde, Gwen. Tom tries to bring
money to his mother, but Mike refuses his money and kicks him out.
When Nails dies (ironically, of a horseriding accident), war erupts among
gangs for control of the city. Matt is killed under Tom's eyes. Tom takes
revenge by killing the rival boss, but is badly wounded. Taken to the hospital,
he finally apologizes to his brother and promises his mother to go back home.
But the rival gang kidnaps him. Mother and brother are anxiously waiting for
Tom to come back home. Instead, the gangsters deliver him dead.
Wellman is, first and foremost, more skilled in mounting
acrobatic and pirotechnic spectacles, and his story is more complex
and theatrical, flirting with Elizabethan tragedy and expressionism.
Just think of the
of the young hoodlum's family:
his God-fearing mother, his arrogant policeman father, and his older brother who is a war veteran. The film is an analysis of an entire urban population that had been forming in the immediate postwar period and from which the gang phenomenon originated. And Cagney's twisted personality, hostile to everything and everyone, is paired with Jean Harlow, the "tough guy's" female counterpart. For the first time a director ventured into the slums to uncover the roots of crime, thus giving the character a more grim light and, at the same time, more universal and human.
The brief Star Witness (1931) looked at the other side of the gangster
film: how an ordinary family is affected by its exposure to crime.
Despite the stereotyped ending, it offers a powerful look into the psychology
of ordinary people caught in the fire between the police and organized crime.
An ordinary family is having dinner. The father, a senior accountant,
reproaches the oldest son, who dropped out of high school and can't find a job,
consoled by his loving wife and his charming daughter. They also have two
little children, who are fond of their funny grandfather, although he always
comes home drunk. Suddenly they hear the noise of cars and guns. The look
out the window and see three gangsters killing two men. The three gangsters
then run into their house and run away through the back door, warning
the family to forget the incident. The district attorney interviews the family.
He tells them that he has reason to suspect the killer was a gangster, Maxey.
He killed a man who was ready to witness against him, and the police officer
who was driving him to the police station. The district attorney asks the family
to identify the gangster and they all do. They soon realize the consequences:
as soon as the gangster is arrested, his men kidnap the head of the family
and beat him up. The family is suddenly thrown into a nightmare. They
need constant police protection. They cannot leave the house, that becomes
their prison. The gangsters eventually manage to kidnap one of the little
children. The district attorney is still determined to go ahead with the trial,
but now the family refuses to cooperate. Only the grandfather stands up:
he has fought in the Civil War for a free country and is willing to risk
anything to keep the country free. Despite his memorable speech, he is not
much of a witness because he was drunk, but it's all the district attorney has.
The district attorney is a crusader, as cruel as the gangsters, and does not
hesitate to threaten the whole family with jail if they don't tell the truth.
Just before the trial the old man disappears: drunk, he's lost in the city.
While the district attorney tortures the family on the stand, the old
man accidentally stumbles on the gang's hide-out. He alerts the police
and personally leads the assault. The police rescue the child and rush
him to the family in court. Grandfather and child are paraded into court.
The old man does not hesitate to testify and send the gangster to the
Safe In Hell (1931), based on a play by Houston Branch, is a film noir.
Gilda is a prostitute. She is sent to entertain a married man and she is
surprised to find out that he is the very man who caused her misfortunes,
She refuses to have sex with him, they fight, she hits him and runs away,
not realizing she accidentally started a fire that kills him.
The following day the police are looking for the girl who was with the victim.
Her boyfriend Carl comes back after a trip and asks her to marry him.
Gilda confesses the truth. Carl is mad at her but, when the police come
knocking, he flees with her on the ship where he works.
He leaves her on a Caribbean island that is a haven for criminals.
Gilda, as the only single woman around, becomes the target of all the rascals
that live in her hotel. Life is boring. All the guests can do is drink
and gossip. They all get excited when the mail comes. She doesn't know it,
but Bruno, the island's executioner, is stealing all the letters that Carl
sends her. She despises their company but eventually gets tired and joins their
conversation. She has to listen to their pathetic stories, each boasting of
his criminal past. She shuts them up when she tells them she's wanted for
murder. Suddenly one day she finds Piet, very much alive, in the hotel's hall.
Piet confesses that he survived the fire, his wife collected his life insurance,
he took the money and ran, she squealed to the police, he had to flee the
country. Gilda feels that she can go back home because she did not commit
the murder, but Piet does not want to let her go. Piet tells the men that Gilda
is a prostitute, a fact that excites the men. Bruno wants to show that he
cares by giving Gilda a gun to defend herself. In reality Bruno has given
her a gun because this is a crime (gun possession) for which he can have her
arrested. When Piet tries to rape her,
he's the one who gets killed (this time for real) by that gun.
At the trial the judge understands her situation, but she is heartbroken
that Carl has not written. Bruno reveals his real intentions: even if the
jury acquits her of the murder, he can arrest her for gun possession unless
she sleeps with him. Rather than accept, she walks back into the court and
confesses to premeditated murder. She is sentenced to death.
She prefers to die than to betray the one decent man of her life, Carl.
Right then Carl returns, on a quick stop in between trips.
She begs everybody not to tell him what is going on.
She promises to follow him back home.
But, after his ship leaves, she walks to her execution.
Other Men's Women (1931)
is a drama set in the milieu of the working class,
triggered by an adulterous love-triangle.
Railroad engineer Bill romances waitress Marie (Joan Blondell) and hangs out
with fellow railroad worker Jack. Ed (James Cagney) is a friend who walks
on top of the train's cars to come and chat with his friends.
Bill is a drunk and his landlady throws him out. Jack invites him to stay
at his house. Jack's wife Lily likes Bill's sense of humor, and, before they
know it, they are kissing. They are confused as to what to do next.
Eventually Jack begins to suspect something. Bill tells him the truth while
they are on a train. They start fighting. The train hits another train.
Jack is left blind. Bill takes the blame for the accident. It rains for days.
The river is rising. Jack wants Lily to move in with her folks because their
house is not safe. But perhaps it's because he feels a burden to her.
The waters are endangering a critical bridge. Bill has decided to drive a
train onto the bridge to make it more stable. Ed and the others realize
that it is a desperate act. When the blind Jack hears about it, he decides to
do it himself: he's useless anyway. Jack starts the train but Bill has time to
jump on board. But Jack hits him and kicks him off the train. The idea does
not work: the bridge collapses and Jack is killed.
Lily moves back to town and is reconciled with Bill.
Night Nurse (1931) is a thriller that contains sordid and violent elements.
Laura (Barbara Stanwyck) joins a hospital to train as a nurse. Her roommate
and best friend is the funny and cynical Maloney (Joan Blondell).
One day she takes care of Mortie, a "honest" bootlegger who has been wounded
by gangsters and does not want to involve the police.
A doctor helps her land a job as a private nurse for the children of
a family, taking shifts with Maloney.
Maloney is puzzled that the little girls are getting worse instead
of better. The children claim that they are always hungry.
One nights she hears a scream and finds the mother of the children intoxicated
while partying with her drunk beaux. The drunk tries to rape her while she
is undressing the unconscious mother. Laura is saved by the
chaffeur Nick (Clark Gable) who beats the drunk senseless, but then forbids
Laura to call the doctor for the unconscious woman.
She insists on calling a doctor but Nick brutally slaps her and throws her on
Laura goes to complain with the doctor who assigned her to the family, but the
doctor is clearly on the family's side and threatens to destroy her career if
she resigns. When Laura leaves his office, he gets on the phone with somebody.
Laura talks to another doctor, who knows the case. She suspects that the
children are being slowly starved to death. He believes her but warns her
that the police would never believe a nurse on her first job. The good doctor
advises her to return to her job and look for proves that the police would
believe. So she goes back and apologizes to the evil doctor.
When one of the girls gets dangerously sick, Laura tries in vain to alert
the mother, who is drunk as usual in the middle of a decadent party with
her friends and a live jazz band.
Mortie the bootlegger shows up to deliver alcohol to Nick. Laura begs
his help to go get some milk (ironically, Mortie has no clue where to buy
milk). The family's maid gets drunk drinking the contents of Mortie's bag
and tells Laura that she overheard a conversation between the evil doctor
and Nick. The doctor would inherit the children's trust fund if they died.
Laura confronts Nick accusing him of premeditated murder.
She is alone against the crooks. But Mortie visits the good doctor and
forces him to go to Laura's rescue. Mortie shows up with a gun to stop Nick
who would like to throw out the good doctor. The good doctor saves the girl.
Mortie the bootlegger has conquered Laura's heart. Laura wonders what to
do with Nick, but Mortie tells her to relax: his friends took care of him.
The ambulance is carrying his body to the morgue.
Love Is A Racket (1932), based on a novel by Rian James, is another film that mixes different genres,
shifting mood and gear halfway into the story. First a comedy, then a
thriller, then a (bitter) comedy again.
The newspaper reports that Mary and her aunt Hattie are back in town after
a trip. Hattie says that she doubts Mary is seriously in love with
reporter Jimmy because Jimmy does not have money, implying that Mary is
only a gold digger. Jimmy (Douglas Fairbanks), who runs a gossip column,
sleeps till late after a night
of partying. His friend Sally (who seems very casual walking into his bedroom)
wakes him up and then wakes up his friend and fellow reporter Stanley.
The boss at the newspaper asks Jimmy to cover a gangster who is public enemy
number one, Eddie, but Jimmy declines. Another ambitious reporter accepts though.
While he is dining at the restaurant with Mary, Jimmy
is approached by Eddie, who knows him. Eddie is immediately fascinated by
Mary's beauty, but Jimmy tells him that Mary is a good girl.
Jimmy truly loves her, but Mary mainly wants to become an acress in one of
impresario Max's plays. In his apartment Mary tells Jimmy that she needs money:
she has drawn some checks that will bounce. They don't know that one of Eddie's
Bernie, is listening. Bernie is mad at Jimmy because the other reporter has
written a story about the gang. Bernie swears he has nothing to do with it
and kills the story. Bernie thanks and walks out.
Jimmy is a good friend of the gangsters. It's part of his job to be friend with
Bernie has heard that Mary has debts and tells Eddie. Eddie blackmails Mary:
he has bought her checks and could ruin her if she doesn't become his
girlfriend. Jimmy tries to intercede but is kidnapped by the dumn Bernie.
Mary asks Stanley and Sally for help. Jimmy eventually escapes. Mary,
desperate, is already on her way to Eddie's penthouse. Jimmy rushes to her help.
When he arrives, he sees Mary's aunt Hattie
hiding a gun. Jimmy takes the gun and finds the body of Eddie.
Jimmy makes it look like it was a suicide and dumps the body into the street.
Stanley sees Jimmy and thinks Jimmy killed Eddie.
The newspaper asks Jimmy and Stanley to cover the story. Stanley tells Jimmy
that he saw him "kill" Eddie.
The ungrateful Mary marries Max and will debut in the impresario's next play.
Jimmy sends the gun as a present to her aunt and declares that love is
The Hatchet Man (1932), one of the better movies of the many he directed
without much focus, was an exotic melodrama set among the Chinese community (but all the Chinese characters were played by Caucasian actors).
During the "tong wars" in San Francisco's Chinatown, a funeral parade buries
the boss of one of the clans, who has been murdered by a silk merchant,
Sun Yat Ming. The clan summons a famous "hatchet man" (hitman) to carry out
the revenge: Wong (Edward G. Robinson). Wong first refuses, because he
recognizes that the designated victim is his very best friend. But then
duty prevails and he accepts the job. In the meantime Sun, knowing what is
about to happen to him, has dictated his will: he leaves everything to
Wong, and offers him his little daughter Toya as wife. When Wong shows up
to his house with the terrible news, Sun accepts his fate and only begs
Wong to marry his daughter when she grows up.
Many years later Wong has become a well-respected businessman. Toya is
a gorgeous young lady, whom Wong brought up as an independent and educated
Western woman. She just fell in love with a playboy, Harry, whom she met
at a dance, but it is her birthday and she is determined to respect her
father's wish and marry Wong.
They marriage is happy until the day that a rival clan kills a rich member
of Wong's clan. This threatens to start another Tong war. Wong knows that
the times have changed and does not want to return to the age of Tong wars,
but the old boss of his clan thinks differently and hires a number of
body guards. One of them is Harry, who is assigned to guard Wong's wife Toya.
Wong tries to negotiate with the rival clan, but they brutally assassinate
his emissary. Wong unearths his old hatchet and takes his revenge against the
Caucasian who has infiltrated the rival clan and caused all the trouble.
While he is away, Harry seduces Toya. When Wong returns, he catches them
kissing. He has just sworn to bury the hatchet again, but now he's ready
to use it again. His wife begs him to save Harry's life. Caring for his wife's
happiness more than anything else, he make Harry promise that he will make Toya
happy and let them go. But his generosity disgraces him in the eyes of the
clan, because tradition demands that he punishes the adulterers.
He is ruined and has to close his business. He becomes a poor peasant working
in the fields. One day he learns that Toya is in China:
Harry was convicted of drug dealing and deported to China, where he abandoned
Toya, who now begs Wong to take her back. Wong takes his hatchet and boards
a ship to China as an engine worker. He finds where Toya lives: it's a
brothel. Harry sold her to the owner of the brothel, who now demands that
Wong pays her back. Wong pulls out his hatchet and throws it at the eye of
a dragon sculpture to prove he is a hatchet man. The lady lets them go but
then runs to Harry, who, drugged and drunk, has been hiding. She yells at
Harry but Harry does not answer: Wong's hatchet has ripped through the wall
and cracked his skull from behind.
So Big (1932) was a mediocre adaptation of Edna Ferber's 1924 novel
(actually a remake of the first adaptation that had come out years earlier).
Frisco Jenny (1932) was another melodrama centered upon the misadventures of a woman and the lives of the destitutes. This film was unusual in that there
was no happy ending.
Jenny is the daughter of a saloon owner in San Francisco. Business is brisk.
She is in love with Dan the pianist and they are planning to get married
because she is pregnant, but Jenny's father hates him and threatens
to have him killed if he gets near Jenny again. Just when father and daughter
are arguining about it, the earthquake strikes. Jenny's father is killed,
the saloon destroyed. She looks for Dan through the ruins and eventually
finds out that he's dead. She is helped by a member of the Salvation Army
(whom she had scorned at the saloon) but they cannot care adequately for
the child. Thus she has to find another way to care for the baby. She creates
a service of prostitutes for rich men. Business is soon booming again for her.
She organizes large wild parties for the decadent society.
When one of her customers kills a man during one such parties, she covers up
the murder and sends the killer to give a speech to the drunk crowd.
And when the police investigates, she hides the gun. Even when she is suspected
of the murder, she refuses to squeal.
Steve, the killer, owes her big time and he helps her hide the child from
the authorities that would like it to take it away from her. The child is
raised by a nice couple until Jenny saves enough money to reclaim him.
Jenny plans to retire to another country. But the child cries that he wants
to stay with his adopted parents. She accepts it and returns to her business.
Over the years she follows her son's career. He's a bright man and rapidly
climbs the ladder of society. But her friends and customers include the very
enemies of her son. Unbeknownst to him, she helps him get elected district
attorney. Once elected, her son Dan launches a campaign against organized
crime that hurts Jenny's friends. They ask their help in vain: she used to
be influential with politicians, but claims that she cannot do anything now.
She could not predict that Dan's crusade would eventually affect her. Dan
nails Steve who is trying to bribe him and tells him that he wants to nail
the notorious madame Jenny too. Steve asks for Jenny's help. Jenny refuses.
Steve decides to tell Dan the truth about Jenny. Jenny kills him before he
can walk into Dan's office. Dan, still unaware that she is his own mother,
thinks that Jenny killed Steve to stop him from witnessing against her.
At the trial her turbulent past plays against her. She is sentenced to death.
Her own son sends her to die. She has one last chance to tell him the truth,
but then decides it's better if he never finds out. She begs her faithful
maid to destroy all the clippings of newspapers that she had religiously saved
over the years, the last evidence that she was Dan's mother.
The Conquerors (1932), loosely inspired by Wesley Ruggles'
Cimarron (1930), is a social drama that looks at the Great Depression
of that year through the eyes of the people who lived the previous one.
The montage is creative.
Roger is a young ambitious bank clerk who falls in love with the daughter of
the bank owners. The old man fires him and forbids him to see his daughter
ever again. But the financial crash ruins the banker
(nightmarish scene of towers of coins falling apart). He dies leaving
Caroline penniless and alone. Roger and Caroline get married. He is jobless
but she has faith in the future. They move west but they are welcome in
the lawless land by bandits who rob them and shoot Roger. Roger is seriously
wounded, and the only doctor in town is a drunk. He saves Roger's life and
her wife Matilda, who runs the hotel, hires Caroline as a servant (she the
daughter of a banker). When a gang attacks the hotel, Roger, still convalescing,
organizes the posse. He falls from the horse and has to return home, but the
posse captures the gang and hangs them. Roger opens a bank and Matilda is
his first customer. The doctor (unusually sober) educates the men of the
town, who walk en masse into the bank. Roger and Caroline have two children,
Frances and a boy.
As the town booms, the bank expands and Roger becomes richer.
He is instrumental in bringing the railway to the town.
But the very first train that arrives to the station kills their boy (and
the doctor) in a terrible carriage accident.
Frances grows up and gets married to Warren.
Roger puts Warren in charge of the bank, but Warren causes the bank's collapse
in the next financial crisis, just when Frances is expecting their first baby.
At the same time that the baby is born Warren commits suicide.
The boy grows up and goes to war during World War I.
When he returns home alive, Caroline is overwhelmed by the emotion and dies.
Tha bank's business booms again until the next recession, and this time it's
a big crash.
Central Airport (1933), based on Jack Moffitt's story "Hawk's Mate",
was another aviation movie, although not as successful as Wings (1927).
The love triangle is explicit and unafraid of displaying sex and adulterous
behavior. Mostly the movie is interesting because, despite the heroic plot,
it captures many aspects of daily life in the USA during the 1930s.
A plane crashes during a storm. The following day they find the lone survivor,
the pilot, Jim. While he is hospitalized, he reads in the newspaper that he
has been found responsible for the crash. While on the train on his way home,
he witnesses the acrobatic manoeuvres of another aviator, who repeatedly
flies his plane close to the train: it's his younger brother Neil, who has
become an equally daredevil pilot. Jim has been suspended for his
carelessness and lost his job. Neil, instead, is quitting his job at the bank
to move west, where he found a job as an aviator. Jim takes the job at the bank
but misses flying. One day he witnesses the jump of a parachutist who gets
stuck on a tree. He is surprised to find out that it's a she, Jill, who works
for a high-flying carnival act. Minutes later the plane crashes and the pilot
dies: it was her brother. Jim decides to replace him and they become partners.
Then they also become lovers. But she wants to get married, while he has no
intention. Therefore she dumps Jim. The same day Neil, who has come to see
Jim, meets Jill at the restaurant and falls in love with her. One day
Jim heroically stops a runaway plane by crashing into it. He is hospitalized
for a month and Neil volunteers to take his place in the circus. During the
convalescence Jim changes his mind about marriage. He buys a ring and travels
to propose to her. But he finds Jill in bed with his brother Neil: they got
married. Feeling betrayed, Jim leaves the country and becomes a Chinese
general. He becomes famouse for his mission-impossible flights. Years later by
accident he takes a room at the same hotel where Jill is staying while Neil
is on a mission. Jim's and Jil''s feelings are rekindled.
They are dancing and kissing when the radio announces that Neil's plane has
crashed in the sea.
Jim does not hesitate and immediately takes off in the middle of the storm.
He locates Neil and the surviving passengers and rescues them.
An anxious crowd waits for the return of the hero and of the passengers.
They honk the horns to signal the position of the runway.
Jim succeeds. Jill rushes to hug her husband. Jim looks at them and smiles.
The Purchase Price (1932) is a brief and mediocre romantic comedy of sorts.
Joan (Barbara Stanwyck) is a singer of torch songs in a night club. She is tired
of her lifestyle and says so to her boyfriend Eddie. Eddie is jealous that she
wants to marry a scion of a wealthy family, Don, who would rescue her from
that life. Alas, Don's family has found out that Joan was mixed up with Eddie, a
notorious bootlegger who has been in jail, and Don dumps her.
Determined to get rid of Eddie, Joan moves to Montreal where she starts a new
career calling herself Francine. Friends of Eddie track her down and she needs
to move again. Her maid Emily is getting married with a man she never met thanks
to a matrimonial agency. She is ugly so she sent the prospective husband a
photo of Joan. This gives Joan an idea: she pays Emily to take her place.
Emily in vain warns her that the man lives in a farm, not a place for a
night-club singer. Emily takes the train to the remote cold country where the
farmer lives and meets her new fiance Jim. As Emily predicted, Joan is shocked
by the routine in the farmer. She initially hates it but then the warm attitude
of the friends and the hard work of her shy man win her over. Unfortunately, it
may be too late: Jim is not able to keep up with the payments and the bank
wants to take his land. Jim has spent eleven years experimenting with crops
and thinks he has produced the best seeds for wheat in the country; but he
can prove that his theory is right only when spring comes. Joan is now truly
in love with him and proud of him.
She learns how to be a good wife and even helps the neighbors.
But just then Eddies shows up: he has tracked her down and wants her back.
Joan has to confess to Jim her past. Jim is hurt to learn the kind of woman
he has married. Jim is broke and treats her like a prostitute, but she is
determined to stay and make him lover her. Eddie cannot win her over, and
Joan even gets him to pay Jim's debt. Just then in a fit of jealousy Jim
attacks Eddie and beats him up in public.
Spring comes and she helps im plant the seeds. When the wheat catches fire,
she almost dies helping him put down the fire, and this finally wins his heart.
The unconvincing and very short film noir
Lilly Turner (1933), adaptated from the play by Philip Dunning and George Abbott, is reminiscent of Tod Browning's Freaks although more explicit
about a woman's sexual life.
Lilly marries Rex, who promises her a nice life in the big city but instead
works as the magician in a carnival. Rex mistreats Lilly and cheats on her with
a girl of the carnival. When Lilly tells him that she's pregnant, he leaves her
without saying a word. The police shows up at Lilly's place looking for Rex:
he had already married someone else and is wanted for bigamy. Since she is
single again, the carnival's barker, Dave, a good man who has always cared
for her, proposes and she accepts so that her child can have a father.
Alas, the child dies at birth.
Dave is a drunk and life
on the road is boring.
When the carnival's entrepreneur wants to sleep with her, she
accepts as if it was the least of her troubles. However, the following day
she talks Dave into quitting the show.
The couple joins a medicine show, working as a barker and an attraction for
a fake doctor, an even less exciting job.
She is still sexy and everybody wants her, but she is less and less excited
by life. One even goes mad and has to be hospitalized in a mental asylum.
One day a handsome spectator, Bob, is struck by her beauty and applies to
replace the madman. Lilly is openly in love with him in front of her drunk
husband. Bob has studied in college, but couldn't find a job.
When the show moves to another city under a heavy rain,
Dave rides (so drunk to be unconscious)
in the back of the doctor's car while Lilly rides in Bob's car.
Bob's car breaks down and the doctor's car goes to look for help.
In the meantime the madman in jail keeps calling Lilly's name and eventually
Bob and Lilly make love in the car. Their affair goes on under the nose of
Dave, who is drunk most of the time.
The doctor's wife is frustrated too, and attracted to Bob, but she's old and
One day one of Lilly's past flings
recognizes her. She pretends it's a mistake, but Bob turns cold for a few days,
realizing that she has had a turbulent sex life. Unbeknownst to her,
the madman is on the loose, looking for her. When Dave sees him, nobody believes
him, not even his wife. Bob receives a telegram that his application for
a job in Mexico has been accepted and asks Lilly to leave with him.
The madman attacks Lilly. Dave tries to stop him, but the madman throws him
out the window. Dave's spine is severely injured. She is moved by his sacrifice
and decides to stay with him.
Great Depression he directed the brief
Wild Boys of the Road (1933),
the story of two boys who leave home so as not to be a burden on parents reduced to misery by the crisis and found a boys' town (with one of the most terrifying scenes of the time).
The movie begins as a light comedy, transforms into a melodrama and finally becomes a bleak tragedy.
Edward and Tommy are good boys. They go out with two girls and Edward is kind to
Tommy, who is broke and whose widowed mother is too sick to go to work.
But Edward doesn't know that his own family is in trouble: his father has
been laid off. Edward is a responsible kid and tries to help by selling his
car, but he soon realizes that the situation is getting desperate. He decides
to leave town with Tom and look for a job elsewhere. They jump on a train like
two tramps. On the train they meet another clandestine passenger: a girl
dressed like a boy. There are actually a lot of kids like them, who don't
have a family or a home. When the train arrives at the big city's station,
the police send most of the kids back. The girl, Sally, can stay because she
has an aunt who lives there, and Sally saves Edward and Tommy pretending they
are her cousins. The young aunt welcomes them all, but she actually runs a
brothel. The police raids it and the three kids flee just in time.
They jump again on a train with all the other kids. The railroad guards attack
them. While they fight the guards, one of them rapes a girl who has remained
alone inside a car. When the kids manage to get into the car again, and they
learn of the rape, they beat up the guard and throw him out of the train.
The train arrives to another big city. The kids jump out of the train to
avoid another fight with the railroad guards. Tommy falls onto the railroad
tracks and a train runs over his leg. A kind doctor operates on him but Tommy
is condemned to crutches for life. Edward promises to work hard and buy him
an artificial leg. When he sees a shop that sells artificial limbs, he steals
one. But this attracts the attention of the police on the city that the boy
have built on the outskirts of town in a yard of sewer pipes. The police
attacks with hydrants, the kids defend themselves with stones. But the police
wins. They have to migrate again, this time to the garbage dump of another city.
Eddy finds a job in the city but needs to buy appropriate clothes. To get
the money he gets mixed up with an attempted robbery and is arrested together
with Tommy and Sally. Luckily, they find a judge who is willing to help them.
Another film set in the milieu of the Great Depression, the fast paced Midnight Mary (1933) is a melodrama with frank sexual scenes, again about a
destitute woman, except that in this case it is the economic crisis that
caused her fall. The whole story is told in a flashback.
In a court the prosecutor is giving the jury his closing argument against
a woman, who is quietly reading a magazine. As the jury retires, a flashback
shows Mary's poor childhood, starting from the day that she was told of her
mother's death while she was rummaging through garbage. During the Christmas
holidays she was unjustly accused of a theft she did not commit and sent
to a reformatory. She lost her virginity to a gangster who then dragged her
into a robbery. She could not find a job and she didsn't have money to
pay her rent. She had no choice but to swallow her tears and return to
the gangster, Leo. One night the gang robbed a casino, killing one police
officer. Mary was pretending to be a lady. A handsome gentleman, Thomas,
helped her escape and took her to his rich flat for an impromptu dinner.
She realizes it's her chance and suddenly breaks down, stops impersonating
the lady she's not, and asks Thomas for a decent job. She becomes
a secretary at his law offices. Thomas gets to like her more and more.
One night he proposes to her in a restaurant but a police officer who happens
to pass by recognizes her as the girl of the gangster. She wants to spare
Thomas the humiliation and tells him that she only wanted his money.
He is heartbroken. She walks into the police station and then into jail.
She is in jail when she reads in the newspaper that Thomas got married.
When she is released from jail, and she is looking in vain for a job,
she stumbles again into Leo and can't help going back to the easy life
as the girl of the boss. Leo is rich too. One night they go to the same
restaurant where Thomas is dining with his wife. Leo gets jealous and
the two men fight. Leo and his men get in the car and look for Thomas.
They chase his car, and shoot, but inside there's his wife with their best
friend, who gets killed. Mary is already at Thomas' place, worried about
his safety. Back to Leo, she does anything to keep him distracted so he
stops thinking about killing Thomas. But he realizes that she is lying to
him. He beats her, then grabs a gun, determined to personally kill Thomas.
She grabs another gun and kills him. That is the crime for which she has
been tried in court. The flashback ends. The jury is read: they found her
guilty of Leo's murder. But Thomas asks for another trial, confessing
that he loves the woman and that the woman killed to save his life, even
if this ruins his reputation and his marriage.
The brief Heroes For Sale (1933) was another bleak melodrama
(bordering on film noir) with a complex plot that sounded like a summary
of stereotypes of the Great Depression, as if the director wanted to paint
a fresco of his times in a short movie
During World War I in France, Roger behaves like a coward abandoning his buddy
Tom who heroically captures a German. But then Tom is shot and Roger
comes back with the prisoner, and so Roger is made a hero. Tom actually
survived, captured by the Germans, who release him at the end of the war.
The German doctor gave him morphine to suppress the pain of his wound.
Tom and Roger meets again, and Roger is shocked to see him alive.
Roger confesses, and Tom forgives him.
Roger goes back to a nice life as a war hero, as a manager at his father's
bank. Tom goes back to a humble life
with his mother, trying to work as an accountant at Roger's bank.
However, he has become addicted to morphine and can't concentrate on his work.
A doctor alerts Roger's father that Tom is a drug addict, and Roger's father
calls the police. Desperate, tries to explain how he became an addict: while
performing the act of heroism for which Roger was later decorated. But Roger
does not support his story and Tom is sent to rehabilitation.
When he comes out of the hospital, Tom moves to another city and rents a room
from a restaurant run by the good-hearted Mary (and her generous father),
after he meets one of their tenants, the pretty Ruth.
Ruth works in a laundry and Tom is hired as a driver.
Tom comes up with creative ideas and the laundry's owner rewards him.
Mary's father is helping the whole neighborhood for free.
Another tenant is a crazy inventor and an outspoken communist.
One day he invents a machine for the laundry. The entire community pitches in
to fund the invention. The invention makes Tom and the communist rich.
Tom and Ruth are married and have a child. Everything seems to go well, but
the good laundry's owner dies and the new management decides to exploit
the machines to fire all the employees. Tom tries in vain to calm the crowd:
the workers march into the laundry to destroy the machines.
The police charge the rioters, Tom is arrested and Ruth is killed.
While Tom is in jail, the communist comes to tell him that they are going to
become rich out of the royalties (the communist has become the most cynical
of capitalists). The good landlady takes care of his child for all the years
that Tom is in prison. When he comes out of jail, he is a rich man because
of all the royalties that have accrued. He gives it all to Mary, who is
feeding for free the poor of the neighborhood.
The former communist is disgusted. He even advocates to kill all the poor.
Ironically, it is now Tom who has the reputation of being a communist. After
the first riots, the bigots of the city chase all "reds" out of town, and
they don't listen to his protestations. He becomes one of the many hobos
who travel from town to town looking for a job, and live under bridges.
He meets Roger, whose family has been ruined by the stock market
crash. They walk together in the rain. Ironically, back home Mary's restaurant
feeds the poor with his money.
The President Vanishes (1934) displays the moral qualities of a president
who pretends to have been kidnapped in order to unmask a fascist plot.
Wellman also ventured with equal success in other fashionable genres:
Stingaree (1934), based on Hornung's novel, is an odd musical.
In an Australian town where good folks fear the bandit Stingaree, whom the
police is expecting, the orphan Hilda is a kind maid
in a aristocratic family. The lady of the family thinks she's a great singer,
and Hilda, who has always dreamed of becoming a singer, has to play the piano
for her. The family is preparing for a visit by a famous musician, Julian.
All three of them are in the same inn: Julian, just arrived from Britain,
the police chief and (incognito) Stingaree. Stingaree has made a musicbox that
plays a tune that he himself composed.
Stingaree has a plan to rob the wealthy family: he kidnaps Julian and
takes his place. This way he can enter the mansion. However, when he arrives
the first thing he hears is Hilda singing alone. And he is mesmerized.
He promises her a great career, but then the family arrives and the vain lady of
the house takes over. The police chief also arrives and recognizes the impostor.
He has to flee and takes Hilda as hostage. Hilda learns that Stingaree is indeed
a gentleman and truly cares for her. The rich family
is preparing to entertain the real Julian. Unfortunately the lady
of the family is going to sing. Julian and all the other guests are bored to
death by the mediocre singer but Stingaree storms the residence and forces
everybody to listen to Hilda.
Stingaree pays with his freedom (he is arrested) but he convinces Julian that Hilda
is a talent: Julian takes Hilda to Britain right away.
Stingaree writes that he will live for the night that she sings in a famous
arena. Hilda is soon a worldwide success. Julian would like to get closer
to her romantically, but she tells him that Stingaree is still in her heart.
She decides to return to Australia.
Stingaree has just escaped from jail. Her tour in Australia is widely
advertised and she is disappointed that he doesn't show up to hears her.
He is actually coming, but, as usual, in a creative way. He has ambushed
the governor and stolen his clothes. He arrives at the theater disguised
as the governor. She recognizes him and sings his tune. But the police
storm the theater and Stingaree has to flee. He comes back at night to
ask her to elope with him. While the police are about to storm the place,
she smiles and leaves in his arms for a life of adventure.
Robin Hood Of El Dorado (1936) is a racial drama.
In the 19th century the USA has just acquired California from Mexico.
The new colonists and the old inhabitants are just beginning to blend that
god is found. Joaquin is a good farmer who accepted the turn of events and tries
to befriend the USA captain sent to control his region. When one of his friends
try to shoot two pioneers, Joaquin saves their lives, even if this costs the
life of his friend. Bill, grateful, becomes his friend. The gold rush has
attracted all sorts of rascals to the region. Four of them, convinced that
there is a huge gold mine in Joaquin's land, try to intimidate Joaquin.
He refuses to leave, they beat him and rape his wife to death. Joaquin swears
to kill all of them. After he kills two of them he is declared a public enemy.
When he sees a "wanted" sign with his picture on it, he goes to complain at
the sheriff's office, but the sheriff is not interested in listening to his
reasons. Joaquin heeds Bill's advice to leave town and start a new life
elsewhere with his brother Jose. But trouble follows him. In his brother's
town a racist, Pete, stirs trouble against Mexicans. He accuses Jose of having
stolen his mule, when in fact Jose bought it from him. The crowd does not
want to listen to the story, they just want to lynch him. Jose is lynched
in front of Joaquin, who is then flogged mercilessly while the sadistic
crowd cheers. The only man who is kind to him is a ruthless Mexican bandit
whom Joaquin has always despised. But now Joaquin declares war.
The first one to fall is Pete the racist. Joaquin turns the bandit's gang
into an invincible army. But now Joaquin robs everybody, even his own
Mexican people. Determined to put an end to his terror regime, a sheriff
calls on Bill to lead the hunt, but Bill is faithful to his old friend and
refuses. One day Joaquin and his army ambush a coach that is carrying lots
of gold. They accidentally kill the girl who is engaged to Bill's friend
Johnny. Joaquin personally leads the coach with the dead girl to the town
where Johnny and Bill are waiting for the bride. Realizing that he has
indeed become a public enemy, this time Bill accepts
the mission to capture or kill Joaquin. They storm the camp of the gangsters
(Indian-style) who defend themselves to the last man and woman (like the
cavalry soldiers). Joaquin survives the massacre but Bill hunts him down.
Fatally wounded, Joaquin manages to jump on Bill's horse and run away. But Bill
has no doubt where they can find him: Joaquin dies on his wife's tomb.
Small Town Girl (1936), a faithful but overlong adapation of Ben Ames
Williams' novel, wants to be a romantic comedy.
The simple and poor Kay meets the rich playboy doctor Bob, who is drunk and lost.
Bob invites him to get into her car and she, who has never had any adventure,
can't resist. Nor can she resist when he asks her to marry him. She is not
after his money but just desperate to get out of that provincial town.
The following day she explains to Bob what he has done. The press already knows.
They have to tell his parents, who are furious.
Not to mention his fiance Priscilla.
His father does not want a scandal that would ruin their son's reputation
so they advise him to wait a few months before divorcing Kay.
Bob informs the avid reporters that he has broken his engagement to Priscilla
and married Kay. He then tells Priscilla the truth: that he has to pretend
for six months. Priscilla decides to enjoy her six months of freedom, while
Bob and Kay leave on their well-orchestrated honeymoon.
Kay is ecstatic that she embarks on her first cruise.
During the cruise Bob comes to appreciate his wife.
When they come back from their "honeymoon", he sees Priscilla again.
He is drunk when the clinic calls about an emergency. Priscilla would like
to simply find an excuse, but Kay drags him to the clinic and he manages
to operate a child, despite being quite drunk. Kay is tired and humiliated
to be a fake wife, while Bob enjoys the company of Priscilla. She tells
Bob's father that she wants to go back to her small town.
One day Bob shows up and asks her again to get into his car, like in the early
scene: except that this time he is sober.
A Star Is Born (1936) follows the plot of
Cukor's What Price Hollywood (1932), the story of an aging actor who
falls in love with a young aspiring actress, turns her into a star, marries her,
but then, realizing that he's at the end of his career, retires and kills himself.
Nothing Sacred (1937),
with sets by legendary designer William Cameron Menzies,
is a satirical screwball comedy that mocks the press.
Wally is an ambitious reporter in search of the scoop that would rehabilitate
his career at the newspaper. He reads about a girl from a rural town that has
been infected with radion poison and doomed to die. He catches the train to
that town and is welcomed by its hostile citizens. It turns out that the whole
case is a fiction of the doctor, but the reporter believes it and brings both
the doctor and the girl, Hazel, back to New York. The director of the
newspaper organizes a presidential welcome and turns the girl into a sensation.
Wherever they go, she is the main attraction. The whole city is moved by her
story, and they all seem to eagerly wait for her funeral, which, of course,
would be the biggest event in ages. But the reporter is truly in love with
Hazel: so he arranges for a visit for Europe's greatest specialists, in case
there is a way to save her life. Hazel, feeling that she is cornered, decides
to simulate a suicide and then disappear. Unfortunately, the reporter "saves"
her (he gets to the harbor before she can jump and, trying to save her,
pushes her into the water). Returned to her hotel room, she can't escape the
visit by the specialists. The director of the newspaper and reporter are finally
informed that she's a fake. The revelation doesn't change the reporter's
feelings. In fact, he would be ready to continue the comedy, but she is fed up.
She shouts the truth to the authorities who are organizing all sorts of events
in her honor/memory. This creates a lot of commotion, because they are all
afraid of looking like fools. So they all agree to let her commit "suicide"
and disappear. After the funeral, Hazel and Wally board a ship and leave town.
The reporter is sure that New York will soon forget her and find another
fraud to worship.
Beau Geste (1939), a remake, is a classic adventure movie, about
three orphans in the Foreign Legion who are devoted to preserving a jewel that
belonged to the woman who raised them.
Roxie Hart (1942) is instead another satirical comedy, which this time
attacks the justice system.
The Great Man's Lady (1942) too attacks a myth, the myth of the founding
fathers of the USA, through the eyes of an old woman who recalls the gold rush era.
Lady Of Burlesque (1943), based on Gypsy Rose Lee's novel "The G-String Murders", is a trivial murder mystery.
The singer Dixie (Barbara Stanwyck) is the new star of an opera house.
Biff is a comedian who is in love with her.
Lolita is jealous of Dixie's success.
The playboy Russell romances Lolita
who is "protected" and abused by a gangster type, Louie.
When the police raid the theater, and all the girls start running away,
someone tries to strangle Dixie. The theater's owner gets everybody released
and Dixie tells what happened to her. She has no enemies, so she guesses
she was not the intended victim.
The girls of the show are jealous of each other, but also live like sisters,
one huge family. When the "princess" Nirvena returns after being hospitalized
for a couple of weeks, she claims that top billing spot from Dixie.
During a show they have to start singing in order to cover the noise that
Lolita and Louie are making backstage while they are fighting.
Later Lolita is found dead, strangled with a G-string. And before the police
arrive the G-string disappears (we see Biff pulling it out of his pocket and
throwing it out of the window). The police interrogate the troupe and finds
out that Lolita was first poisoned and then strangled (so there might be two
murderers). They catch Biff in the act of disposing of the G-string and
arrest him, but he is later released when they find incriminating evidence
against Lolita's gangster Louie. In the meantime Dixie has lost her job to
Nirvena. When she protests to the boss, he explains that she blackmails him:
she was her lover for a while, he sent her away, but she came back more
demanding than ever, and he has to protect his family. Nirvena is found dead,
strangled with a G-string again.
Louie is shooting his way out. The police corner him and kill him. They think
they solved the double murder, but Dixie is the first one to point out that
he couldn't have killed Nirvena. The police re-interrogate everybody and
finds out about the blackmail. The boss is now the suspect, but soon Russell
is forced to tell the truth: he heard Lolita blackmail Nirvena, threatening
to talk to the boss' wife and thus disrupt Nirvena's plot; Nirvena poisoned
Lolita; then someone else strangled her and Nirvena saw the strangler. Russell
has not doubt that the strangler killed Nirvena to protect himself.
The police suggests that the boss closes the opera house because the strangler
is likely to strike again. Bud Dixie gives a noble speech: obviously the
strangler is someone who wants the theater closed (first he engineered the
police raid, then committed two murders) and it is the actors' duty to defend
their jobs. Dixie is the last one to leave the theater, In the dark a man with
a G-string corners her: it's the old faithful caretaker. Luckily Biff has
figured out the whole riddle after reading an old article: the old caretaker
was the grandfather of Lolita, determined to keep her off the burlesque.
Biff is finally rewarded with Lolita's love.
the war movie This Man's Navy (1945),
Island In The Sky (1953) and
Gallant Journey (1946), the biopic of an aviation pioneer.
and especially the satirical comedy
Magic City (1947).
He directed two original war movies:
Battleground (1949), an anti-heroic psychological film-noir,
The Story of GI Joe (1945).
The Happy Years (1950), based on Owen Johnson's "Lawrenceville School" stories, is an overlong and tedious costume melodrama.
At the turn of the century the owner of a newspaper is haunted by the unruly
behavior of his teenage son John. Exhausted, the father decides to send John
to a private school, Lawrenceville School.
He is welcome by the tyrannical head boy, nicknamed Tough, and by his new
At the local pub he is ripped off by a con artist, Tennessee.
After beating one of the boys, John decides to challenge Tough, but loses
and is excommunicated by the other boys.
John spends the summer vacations with his parents at their beach mansion.
He wreaks havoc at the beach until he meets the beautiful Dolly who
outsmarts him. When he returns to school, he befriends a younger boy and
is mentored by a kind teacher. John takes his revenge over Tough and
becomes a better man. When the school year ends, John goes home no longer
a terrible boy, but a responsible man.
The High And The Mighty (1954) is another tedious movie.
For one hour the movie simply introduces the passengers of the plane, either via flashbacks or conversations or both, including Dan the experienced pilot (John Wayne), who once crashed a plane killing his wife and child. The place has a problem, which is compounded by a passenger shooting another passenger out of jealousy. One of the engine dies and the tank starts losing fuel. The crew realizes
that they cannot make it to their destination. While rescue planes and ships
are getting ready to help out, Dan informs the passengers that the plane will
land in the ocean. The passengers take it quite well and coooperate with the
emergency instructions. Dan takes the initiative and manages to save enough
fuel to land at the airport, not in the sea.
Then came the westerns, starting with
Buffalo Bill (1943), and Wellman's art perhaps peaked with
The Ox-bow Incident (1943), adapted from a novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark,
a work of civic engagement in line with the stances of his comedies.
The disappearance of a man causes fellow citizens to think he has been murdered, and three unfortunates are lynched on the basis of mere suspicion, and it is discovered too late that the presumed dead man is alive.
(DeepL translation of my original Italian text)
Men from a village are on the trail of a gang of raiders who have just killed a farmer. In vain an old man and the judge warn them against the temptation of summary justice. A wicked deputy sheriff, a friend of the dead man blinded by rage, a bumptious ex-Southern colonel still in uniform, and a bloodthirsty old witch stir up the others. The pursuing group is joined by two young men (Jane Fonda and her friend, just returned to the town) and a black reverend.
After scaring off in the middle of the night the stagecoach bringing Fonda's ex-girlfriend who had just married a San Francisco gentleman back to the village, they capture three men caught in their sleep (a family man, a Mexican, and an old man), who have a herd bearing the mark of the deceased (the family man claims to have just purchased a ranch and bought the cattle from the deceased). Unresponsive to their grievances (the three plead in vain for them to go to the village to verify their story), all eager to hang three men at once, the good citizens of the posse decide to execute them at dawn. The father of the family is allowed to write one last letter to his wife, which a pitying old man (also opposed to hanging) offers to deliver.
In vain Fonda tries to intervene: he succumbs to their murderous fury. The colonel's son refuses to whip one of the horses, and his father slaps him in disgust at his cowardice. On their way back they meet the sheriff who comes from the farm of the alleged dead man: he is actually only wounded, and the real culprits have already been arrested.
The enthusiastic vigilantes reveal their cowardice when the sheriff asks who it was who carried out the lynching: the perpetrators tremble, and the old man who had opposed it (true to the law of omerta) answers only "all but seven." The colonel's son holds the murder against his father: the veteran knew those three were innocent, but was dying to kill someone. The colonel commits suicide. In the saloon crowded with disappointed faces, Fonda reads the last letter to the wife of one of the three condemned men.
Another western is
Yellow sky (1948),
set in a ghost village where a girl and her grandfather live in solitude and where a gang of outlaws take refuge: the leader not only defends the old man's gold, but, falling in love with the girl, disowns the gang, defeats them and marries the beauty.
Across the Wide Missouri (1950) is another western,
written by Talbot Jennings and inspired by Bernard DeVoto's namesake chronicle.
Oddly the leading Indian roles are played by Latin-Americans, but the film
is otherwise realistic (sometimes it looks more like a documentary)
and well photographed. The narrating voice is a bit annoying and the film
was severaly mauled by the producer. The story mainly focuses on the love story.
The story of the pioneer who in the early 19th century thrived in a valley
is narrated by his son.
Flint (Clark Gable) lived among friendly Indians
with other Caucasians, namely a former Scottish captain, Humberstone,
a French trapper, Pierre, and another Scotsman who has become an Indian.
Flint was getting ready to leave for an expedition to hunt beavers in
the remote territory of another (less friendly) Indian tribe, the Blackfoot.
An Indian girl, Kamiah, fell in love with him and he realized that he could gain
an advantage with the Indians if he married her.
He buys her from the chief in exchange for an old armor.
She is honestly affectionate and a good wife.
The march through the mountains is terrifying and after the mountains they
have to face the Blackfoot Indians. Flint narrowly escapes death.
Kamiah is pregnant. This is further good news for Flint because it will
strengthen his friendship with her grandfather, who rules the Blackfoot.
Alas, Pierre has a brother to avenge and kills the chief (and is then in turn
killed). The new chief is Ironshirt (Ricardo Montalban), who has hostile
intentions because he wanted Kamiah for himself. In the spring
Kamiah gives birth to a son, but she is soon killed in the first major
attack by the Blackfoot. Her son is on a horse that runs away. Ironshirt
rides after the horse, determined to kill the baby. Flint abandons his men
(who massacre the attackers anyway) to run after Ironshirt who is running
after his son. They finally confront each other in the forest and Flint
kills him. This time Flint takes off alone with his child and raises him alone.
Westward the Women (1951) is another realistic western. It doesn't even use a musical score but focuses on the landscapes and on the real hardship of traveling to the Far West,
A ranch owner offers an odd job to an unemployed scout, Buck: to lead women from
Chicago to California. The ranch owner has decided that his men need a family,
and the easiest solution is to travel to Chicago and hire 150 of them. He is
confident that he will find women crazy enough to travel that long distance for
an uncertain future. The scout is skeptical that the women can survive such
a long and demanding trip. In Chicago the ranch owner is proven right: there
is an abundance of women who want to seize the opportunity, and nost just prostitutes: an Italian immigrant with a child whose husband has died, for example, and a cute French in search of adventure, Cherie. Buck welcomes the ladies with a scary speech,
describing an odyssey through mountains and deserts, Indians and wild beasts,
and predicting that one of every three of them will die. Nonetheless, the
women remain. They are shown the pictures of the cowboys of the ranch and each
gets to pick one picture. The French girl, though, stares at Buck.
Then Buck hires the men who will help him protect the women, including a
Japanese boy, and warns them not to molest the women. He immediately fires
the first one who makes a joke about the women.
Men and women get their wagons ready and begin the journey.
Patience is the oldest and toughest. She takes care of pretty Rose who is
secretely pregnant. Cherie has her eyes on Buck.
HOwever, Buck does not make a mystery that he despises women.
Buck makes it clear that he expects absolute discipline when he shoots and expels the first man who tries to touch a woman. When another man rapes a woman (Cherie' friend Laurie), Buck executed him in front of everybody without wasting a single word. One night the men decide to leave, and take eight women with them.
Only four men are left, including Buck, the Japanese boy and the ranch owner.
The ranch owner would like to go back, but Buck is a man on a mission. Determined to finish his job, he trains the woman to shoot. And never mind that the Italian woman accidentally kills her own son.
Nonetheless the women manage to do things that would be difficult even for
experienced men. Buck is hardly grateful.
Even the ranch owner is shocked by Buck's cold and ruthless manners.
Cherie accidentally starts a horse stampede and a furious Buck insults her and even whips her.
She runs away and Buck has to chase her through the canyons. When he catches her, he can't resist anymore: he makes love to her. He rides back to the camp a tamed man, smiling for the first time. BUt there is no respite: the Indians have
attacked the wagons and one of the victims is the ranch owner, who dies begging
Buck not to give up. However, this time Buck tells the women that it is wiser
to go back.
Buck's speech is enhanced by the echo of the canyon.
All the women shout back "not me" (echo and all).
Then they recite the names of the women who died, and each one is repeated by the echo countless times.
THey ride through Indian burial ground.
Laurie dies in a wagon accident and Rose gives birth while the caravan is
crossing the desert.
They finally reach the river beyond which is the town. And then they refuse
to walk into the town because they look like tramps. Buck has to go to town
and mobilize the men to dig up anything that would look good on a woman.
When they clean and dressed up, they can finally parade into town. The men
stand speechless. Then the women pull out the pictures, that they have treasured
through mountains and deserts, and pick their husband. A long line of couples forms in front of the pastor. Cherie is the last one to pick and to get in line with Buck.
Track of the Cat (1954), adapted from the novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, is unusual in that the subject of the whole plot (a panther) is never shown.
The protagonist chases a ghost. And his chase becomes a Homeric journey,
paralleled by the events back at home, an allegorical tale and a Greek tragedy.
During a snowstorm a pioneer family is asleep in their ranch. One of them
hears the cows scream and wakes up the other men.
None of the children is married and is soon obvious that they are all under
the power of their tough matriarch (their father being a pathetic alcoholic).
Curt, the toughest of the children, has no doubt there must be a panther
harassing their herd and decides to go out and hunt it. He takes his elder
brother with him, despite the protestations of their sister. The sister hates
Curt, who is arrogant and impolite with everybody, especially with younger
brother Harold's fiance Gwen. Curt leaves his elder brother alone in the forest
and, when he returns, finds him dead, mawed by the panther. Curt puts the
body on his horse and sends the horse home, and then sets out on foot to
track down the panther, despite the fury of the elements.
Back at home the sister yells at her mother, whom she considers an accomplice
in Curt's folly, and wants her brother Harold to move out and marry Gwen.
Curt fails to capture the beast and dies.
Back at home the controlling mother prevails and convinces Harold to go
out and look for Curt. Harold finds the panther and kills it. A new era
begins for the family.
The Happy Years (1950) is about a young rebel at the turn of the century.
The Next Voice You Hear (1950), written by Charles Schnee, is a parable of sorts, although its message remains ambiguous.
Joe is the head of a regular middle-class family in a regular suburban
neighborhood. He loves his pregnant wife Mary, and their child Johnny loves them. Their domestic
routine goes on day after day. One day he is listening to the radio when
he suddenly hears a voice that claims to be the voice of God. The following
day he finds out that everybody heard the same voice. He doesn't pay too
much attention to the gag, too busy getting to work in time (he gets two
tickets for his driving). But in the evening the whole nation hears the same
voice again on the radio. This time everybody talks about it. Joe is still
skeptic. The experts have no idea how a radio station could possibly
broadcast that message to the whole nation. Joe becomes apprehensive.
That night the voice comes back on the air, wondering why people are afraid
and whether he has to perform miracles in order for people to believe.
It turns out that nobody can record the voice: the recording is silent.
Right after the broadcast, a huge storm starts. Mary is terrified, Joe tries
to reassure her that it is just a coincidence. The following day the radio
reports that people around the world heard the voice, and they heard it in
their national languages. Now even presidents and kings are beginning to
believe that it is indeed the voice of God. Mary's aunt come to visit them
and she has a hysterical fit when God speaks again. She's also afraid that
Mary will die of her second child, just like her mother. Mary herself is
frightened when, after a false alarm, the doctor tells her that it may be
necessary to perform forced labor. The following night Joe is too afraid to
listen to the voice. He spends the evening at the pub and comes back home drunk.
Johnny sees him and is ashamed. The following day Johnny disappears. Joe has
to look for him all over town, and finally finds him at the home of an
eccentric atheist who lives alone. Joe confesses to Johnny that he got drunk
because he is afraid of God. God's messages are very simple: just be nice.
On the seventh day the whole world is waiting for God's message at the
usual time. But God does not speak. Joe has to drive his wife straight to
the hospital and hours later a baby is born. The family's happiness is restored.
My Man And I (1952) is a film noir that criticizes the "American dream".
The plot is cartoonish and implausible.
Chu-Chu (Ricardo Montalban) is a Mexican who has just become a USA citizen.
His friends are lazy bums who spend their time and money gambling. He is
honest and determined to do well. He gets a job at a farm, working for a
lonely couple. The woman is outspoken about her unhappy life in the farm
and tries to befriend the worker. On saturday Chu-chu goes to town but doesn't
have the money for big entertainment so he just drinks in a small pub. There he
meets a lonely alcoholic, Nancy (Shelly Winters). She should be the last woman
a honest hard-working citizen would be interested in, but instead it is love
at first sight. She needs money and he borrows money for her from his cousin.
He is proud of being a USA citizen. Cynical and ungrateful, she laughs at his
idealistic view of the world and takes off with his money.
Chu-Chu has almost finished his job at the farm. One night the lady of the
farm, who has just lost her beloved cat (killed by her husband's ferocious
dogs), comes to seduce him but he politely declines. When he is paid by the
farmer, he realizes that the check is not good. He goes back to talk to
the farmer, who simply tells him to try and cash it again. Then he tells his
wife that he has no intention of paying Chu-Chu. But Chu-Chu still gets his
money by selling the check to one of his friends. With the money he buys
food and drinks for all his gambling friends. He meets Nancy again, and she
gets drunk again, this time telling him the melancholy story of her life and
how her husband died. He makes love to her.
Chu-Chu's friend tries to cash the cheque but the
cheque is still no goog. Chu-Chu travels to the farm again, but this time
the farmer points a gun at him. His wife, who never misses an opportunity
to tell him how much she hates her husband, tells him that he should point it
to himself. Chu-Chu sues him and wins. The farmer admits
he has no money but promises to pay in two months. Two months go by and
the farmer still refuses to pay, pointing the gun again. This time Chu-Chu
humiliaties in front of his wife, taking the gun away and punching him.
As Chu-Chu is leaving, the farmer picks up the gun and would shoot him in
the back if his wife were not looking. They start a fight and the gun goes
off, wounding the farmer. As much as they hate each other, they hate Chu-Chu
even more: Chu-Chu humiliated them both, in different ways. So they decide
to tell the police that it was Chu-Chu to shoot at the farmer.
He is arrested. While in jail, he learns that Nancy tried to kill herself.
He escapes just to make sure that she will not try again.
At the trial all his friends and Nancy testify that he is a good man, but
the jury believe the farmer and his wife. Still believing in the USA, Chu-Chu
goes to jail reading the letter that the president sent him when he became
The sheriff suggest how Chu-Chu's friends could help reverse the case. They
camp outside the farm and haunt the farmers. But the one who cracks their
psychology is Nancy, who tells them how good a person Chu-Chu is and then
collapses to the floor. As she is taken to the hospital, the farmer's wife
decides to tell the truth, and he finally remembers that he used to love her.
Chu-Chu is released and celebrates with the sheriff. Nancy is waiting for him
at the hospital.