Search This Blog

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Fifty Years of Film in 50 Weeks, #18: Angels with Dirty Faces 1938

"Whaddya hear? Whaddya say?"

Angels with Dirty Faces 1938

Director: Michael Curtiz
Writer: John Wexley & Warren Duff, from a story by Rowland Brown
Cinematographer: Sol Polito
Produced by: Samuel Bischoff, Hal Wallis, and Jack Warner, for Warner Bros.
Starring: James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Ann Sheridan, Humphrey Bogart, 'The Dead End Kids'

Why I chose it
I was hesitant at first to put this one on my shortlist, because I had just watched a Warner Bros. film (Draegerman Courage from 1937), but went ahead anyway because Cagney has been sorely absent from this series, and from this blog, except for his cameo in my post 'Six Decades of Film Jameses'. Both this one and Pygmalion, with Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller, made it to the final Twitter poll, and Angels with Dirty Faces garnered the most votes. So here we are.

'No-spoiler' plot overview 
Rocky Sullivan and Jerry Connolly are two rambunctious friends in the Lower East Side in NYC in the early 1920s. Rocky gets caught at a petty crime, is shuttled off to reform school, and continues his criminal exploits into adulthood. Meanwhile, Jerry becomes the neighborhood parish priest. When grown Rocky (James Cagney) gets out of jail in the late 1930s, he renews his friendship with Jerry (Pat O'Brien), but still pursues criminal activities, this time with a gangster outfit headed by Frazier (Humphrey Bogart) and Keefer (George Bancroft). A new generation of neighborhood 'toughs' begin to hang out with Rocky, idolize him, and even help him escape capture, which greatly concerns Father Jerry, who is working hard to keep them from going bad. Rocky is torn between his friendship with Jerry and his life of crime, as he is increasingly at odds with both the law and the mob. (The ending of this film has its most commented-upon scene, but in keeping with no spoilers, I won't discuss it here).

Production Background 
In 1938, Cagney was an established film gangster while Bogart had only been a minor villain for Warner Bros. In fact, the gangster drama had been out of fashion for the years since the enforcement of the Production Code had cracked down on the "glamorization" of criminals. But in Angels with Dirty Faces, Warners resurrected their best-loved gangster, paired him with his frequent screen partner, O'Brien, who served as the white knight to Cagney's tough guy. They also threw all their best contractors at the production, including director Curtiz, composer Max Steiner, and the 'Dead End Kids'. These kids were six young NYC actors who hit the big time as stars of the Broadway show 'Dead End.' Hollywood saw a good thing and imported the group for a series of films, mostly at Warners, during the 1930s. (The 'Kids' continued their run of stardom in the 1940s and beyond as the 'East Side Kids' and 'Bowery Boys').  The 'Kids' apparently were as rumbunctious on set as their characters; original tough guy Cagney, with his street cred, subdued them after getting physical with Leo Gorcey when the latter pulled one too many ad-libs during filming. 

As for Cagney, he famously fought with Warner Bros. around this time about his gangster typecasting and other things, but was drawn to Rocky as a more well-rounded character. According to his autobiography, Cagney drew inspiration for his character from a drug-addicted pimp he knew as a kid, who stood on a street corner all day hitching his trousers, twitching his neck, and repeating: "Whadda ya hear! Whadda ya say!" Cagney won his first Oscar nomination for the role.

Some other notable film-related events in 1938 (from Filmsite.org):

  • The first appearance of an early prototype of Bugs Bunny, possibly the greatest cartoon character of all time, was as Porky Pig's antagonist in Warners' Porky's Hare Hunt (1938). He would appear fully developed and in his first starring role in Tex Avery's Oscar-nominated A Wild Hare (1940).
  • Roy Rogers made his starring film debut in the Republic Studios' B-western Under Western Stars (1938), after which he became popularly known as the "King of the Cowboys".
  • MGM loaned actor Clark Gable to David O. Selznick for his production of Gone With the Wind (1939) for his most famous role as Rhett Butler, in exchange for the film's distribution rights and one-half of the profits (further reduced by Loew's Inc.'s 15% interest and a requirement to pay Gable's $4,500 per week salary and one-third of Gable's $50,000 loan-out bonus).
  • African-American leaders publically called on the Hays Office to make roles other than doormen, maids, and porters available to blacks.

My Random Observations

  • If I were making movie taglines, this one would get 'The Public Enemy Goes to Boys Town." (Boys Town was a highly successful picture with Spencer Tracy playing the real-life priest who reforms young hoodlums, made at MGM also in 1938). There were scenes focused on both Jerry and Rocky working with the kids to get them out of trouble, and ones bordering on religious intensity. On the opposite side were shoot-outs and suspenseful scenes straight out of Warner's The Public Enemy, which apparently served as a source of some shots in this. Despite the moralizing and sentimentality, I loved how we could both root for Rocky and against him, hoping that the angels with the dirty faces wouldn't end up like him.
  • Speaking of faces, this film had 'em! Can you beat the quartet of Cagney, Bogart, O'Brien, and Bancroft for downright fascinating male visages? Matching them were the Dead End Kids, who all were interesting to look at. And what fun these kids must have had in their young lives doing these movie roles! (Despite that, most of them ended their careers in relative obscurity, and did not live much past their 50s).

    The 'Dead End Kids' publicity image.
  • I loved Cagney before, but now I downright adore him. He richly deserved his Oscar nomination for the range of emotions he covered here. But above all I was impressed with his physicality, how he used his body, leaning in and out, pivoting quickly on his heels, to add to his character's charisma. 
  • Sadly, Ann Sheridan's character Laury was underwritten and underused in the film. Laury was a tough young woman who seems to exist only to be the audience surrogate as another falling under Rocky's spell; she does nothing to move the story along. According to historian Dana Polan, who provided commentary on the DVD, Sheridan's role was bigger in the original script, with a stronger love story, but was cut down in the interest of economy.
  • The film gets my vote for one of the most evocative and provocative film titles of all time.

Screenshots
The original 'angels with dirty faces,' a young Jerry (William Tracy)
and Rocky (Frankie Burke) watch girls from their tenement perch.

Rocky has the bad fortune to get caught by police after his
and Jerry's latest escapade.

Rocky has outsized influence in the city.

Bogart and Cagney on together for the first time - yowza!

Jerry (Pat O'Brien), now ordained, directs a boychoir
in his parish church.

Rocky and Laury (Ann Sheridan) spar as Rocky 
wants to rent a room in Laury's boarding house.

The 'Dead End Kids'

Rocky descending the stairs into the Kids hideout, 
faking a heater.

Rocky and the kids are all friends now, eating lunch in his place.

Laury and Jerry look on as Rocky tames the kids in a 
friendly game of basketball.

Rocky and his 'concerned' face as he prepares to evade gunmen.

Rocky has to put one of the kids in his place ("Bim", Leo Gorcey).

Jerry finds the kids in a local gambling joint and tries to 
convince them that playing basketball would be a better activity.

With a tiger image behind them, Keefer and Frazier's
relationship with Rocky turns rocky.

Police prepare to take Rocky down.

Rocky looking unusually unkempt as Jerry rescues him from
a room filled with tear gas.

Jerry attempts to lead the kids up and into the light.

Where to Watch
The film is on DVD from Warner Home Video, but I also found it online at archive.org (with Portuguese subtitles) here.

Further Reading
A fellow CMBA blogger 'Down These Mean Streets" does justice to the film in this essay (spoiler alert).
TCM captures Cagney quotes about this film in an article here.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Fifty Years of Film in 50 Weeks, #17: Draegerman Courage 1937

This week I drill down (pun intended!) into the realm of the 'B' picture. While exploring Draegerman Courage, I had the opportunity to learn more about the role of B pictures in Hollywood and the mid-century film-going experience.

Draegerman Courage 1937

Director: Louis King
Writer: Anthony Coldeway
Cinematographer:  Gilbert Warrenton
Produced by: Bryan Foy for Warner Bros.
Starring: Jean Muir, Barton MacLane, Henry O'Neill

Why I chose it
Ever since I learned of this movie's existence, I've wanted to see it - and really only because I once worked for the company Draeger. The term 'draegerman' was, and still is, used in the U.S. and Canada for mine rescue workers who typically used safety equipment made by the company.  

'No-spoiler' plot overview 
In Nova Scotia, 'Draegerman' Andrew "Beau" Beaupre (Barton MacLane) warns the foreman in the "New Moon" Gold Mine that proper safety precautions are not being followed. He's brushed off, and predictably, a fatal accident occurs in the mine. Meanwhile, Dr. Thomas Haslett (Henry O'Neill) attends to the victims, while managing a home life with frisky tween Suzie (Priscilla Lyon) and adult daughter Ellen (Jean Muir), who is dating Beau. Dr. Haslett dreams of a better hospital and looks to sell his ownership share in the ominously named defunct 'Graveyard Mine' to fund it. A freak non-mine-related accident injures Suzie, whose expensive operation prompts the Doctor to sell low to New Moon owner Martin Crane (Robert Barrat). He, Crane, and foreman Mac (Addison Richards) make their way to the 'Graveyard' mine, just to be trapped at the lowest level by an ill-timed cave-in. Beau is pressed into duty to rescue them.

Production Background and the Warner Bros. 'B' Unit
In Hollywood, "B" movies were those designed and produced at lower budgets to be sold as a 'second feature' on a double bill in smaller-market cinemas whose patrons demanded more value for their money, especially during the Depression. B movies got their own production units at the major studios, whereas the smaller studios produced only B movies. Typically running no longer than an hour, these productions employed lesser-known actors or starred actors who only filled supporting roles in A pictures, and scripts, sets, etc. were usually mediocre. Yet many of these films are memorable today for a variety of reasons. The beloved series like Torchy Blane, Charlie Chan, or the 'singing cowboy' Westerns, were popular with the public. Today's film aficionados cite the creativity that emerged when talented directors were constrained, in low-budget noir gems like Detour, or The Narrow Margin.

At Warner Bros., the 'B Unit' produced approximately half of all the studio's movies during this era. Set up in 1935 and run by Bryan Foy, late of the "Seven Little Foys" of Vaudeville, the unit produced ~30 films per year at $50,000-$125,000 per film.* Foy had considerable autonomy as major studio bosses Hal Wallis and Jack Warner were busy with the A pictures. But like the studio A pictures, Foy's Unit often focused on gritty, 'ripped from the headlines', or social issue dramas. Draegerman Courage definitely fit that mold.

Bryan Foy (imdb.com)

While not stated anywhere in the film credits, the movie was based on a Nova Scotia mine accident (Moose River) just the year before that captivated all Canada because of three-minute CBC radio broadcasts from the site every half hour. Like the movie, a doctor and two other men were trapped for 11 days, and one perished before he could be rescued. (Go here for a detailed description of what actually happened at the Goose River Mine). The film's writers chose to play up the struggle between workers ekeing out a living while greedy owners cut corners in safety measures, eventually having to pay for those sins. For the film's hero, actor Barton MacLane was chosen, who never played the lead in any A picture, but was often in support in films like The Maltese Falcon and High Sierra. Second-lead actress Jean Muir, who later was blacklisted for her alleged Communist-supporting activities, filled the role of the love interest.

The film garnered at least a couple of good reviews at the time. In Variety: "Warners has turned out a vivid and often thrilling melodrama of underground disaster....The film can boast of a well-managed plot,  top-notch dialog, and a story that lifts to its climax with smoothness and dispatch."

Some other notable film-related events in 1937 (from Filmsite.org):

  • Luise Rainer won the second of her back-to-back Best Actress Oscars for her performance as the strong and silent O-Lan, a self-sacrificing Chinese peasant farm wife in The Good Earth (1937). Her first win was for her performance in The Great Ziegfeld (1936). 
  • Chester Gould's comic strip police detective character Dick Tracy made his first appearance in film in Dick Tracy (1937), a Republic Pictures movie serial starring Ralph Byrd.
  • Six of the original members of "The Dead End Kids" (young New York actors) reprised their 1935-1937 Broadway stage roles in the Hollywood film version, UA's crime drama Dead End (1937) opposite Humphrey Bogart. It was their first film appearance, and they went on to make more films, including Warners' popular Angels With Dirty Faces (1938). 
  • In a poll taken by newspaper entertainment columnist and radio star Ed Sullivan (later a legendary TV variety show host) in 53 newspapers in 1937, 20 million fans voted Clark Gable and Myrna Loy as the "King and Queen of Hollywood."

My Random Observations

  • B pictures required economy in storytelling, and man, this one had it. I was struck by all the goings-on that occurred within the hour: three terrible accidents, two deaths, two daring rescues, a bar fight, a romance on-the-rocks, a family melodrama, a baby's birth and baptism, a cute dog doing tricks. I'm sure I missed some things. 
  • Building on that, I was impressed by the seamless integration of all these elements in the movie. I caught myself wondering at times if the movie was supposed to be a family drama or a disaster movie, but I went along for the ride. While the characters themselves were mostly two-dimensional, the actors brought enough skill to their performances to make us understand and empathize with most of them. 
  • Actor Henry O'Neill (Dr. Tom Haslett), was perhaps the most nuanced of the group. And he was immediately identifiable to me. I had to look him up, but he was in over 150 films in the 30s and 40s, including Johnny Eager, Jezebel and at least a dozen others that I've seen. He brought an air of sternness but kind vulnerability that worked well for him here.
  • What was Ellen Haslett's role in society, exactly? She seemed to be a young adult still living at home. She wasn't needed to care for elderly parents or even her younger sister, since her mother ran the house. She seemed to exist only to make coffee to bring to the mine rescue workers, or wait around until Beau popped the question. She had no dreams or character arc, and did not take any actions to move the plot along. (Obviously, the answer here is she really only existed to provide the requisite love interest). I wonder if audiences in the 1930s asked this question or to what extent this lifestyle was common for young women then.
  • I was somewhat disappointed in only about three passing references to 'Draegermen', despite the term being in the film's title. I thought the film might feature a bit of explanation of what kind of safety equipment Draeger made, at the very least, for mine rescue workers, or a brief history of Draegermen. No luck there. 
Screenshots

Miners at the 'New Moon' rush to escape the falling timbers
as the mine interior structure crumbles around them.

Draegerman 'Beau' (Barton MacLane, left) fills in Dr.
Thomas Haslett (Henry O'Neill) about the possible conditions of miners
escaping the cave-in.

A sweet domestic scene with young Suzy (Priscilla Lyon), her
little dog, and her dad, Dr. Tom.

Beau needs a drink after a rough day at the mine.

Sweethearts Beau and Ellen (Jean Muir) have a moment.

Martin Crane (Robert Barrat, left) is a bit skeptical when Dr. Haslett
extols the virtues of the 'Graveyard' mine.

Descending into the 'Graveyard'

Villagers rush to the Graveyard site as the rescue operation
gets underway.

A live radio broadcast of the rescue (Sam Hayes) is no doubt riveting
for listeners.

Dr. Haslett speaks on a phone dropped through a tube 
from rescuers above ground.

Beau walks on a steep ledge in his attempt to rescue the men
trapped in the 'Graveyard'.

Where to Watch: Currently streaming on WatchTCM for a limited time, and Direct TV. It's also available on DVD from Warner Archive on a double bill with Road Gang.
Check out the trailer here:

Further Reading
*Schatz, Thomas. The Genius of the System, Metropolitan Books, 1988.
To learn about Draeger's mine safety equipment and the history of the 'draegerman', go here.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Fifty Years of Film in 50 Weeks, #16: Rembrandt, 1936

When your film needs a big personality, Charles Laughton is always top of the list.

Rembrandt, 1936

Director: Alexander Korda
Writer: Carl Zuckmayer and June Head
Cinematographer:  Georges Périnal
Produced by: Alexander Korda for London Film Productions
Starring: Charles Laughton, Gertrude Lawrence, Elsa Lanchester, Edward Chapman, Walter Hudd, Roger Livesey

Why I chose it
I narrowed my initial list down to this one, recommended by a film friend, and Romeo and Juliet, and really was inclined to watch both. Ultimately, Rembrandt won because of my curiosity to see what Charles Laughton would do with the role, but also because producer/director Alexander Korda is a giant in early British cinema. 

'No-spoiler' plot overview
Rembrandt struggles to keep his seventeenth-century Amsterdam household afloat when his wife dies unexpectedly. He manages to derail his career when he paints an extremely unflattering commissioned portrait of civic guards in his famous "The Night Watch", and begins to drink. He's not sure whom to trust when everyone from his housekeeper to his best friend seems to want something from him, but he finds true love again with Hendrickje, a young maid with a pure heart. Will his life get back on track? Will his talent be appreciated again in his lifetime?

Production Background 
Alexander Korda was a towering figure in British cinema in the 1930s - he founded London films and produced and directed a series of hits, including The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), which solidified his relationship with actor Laughton. Nabbing Laughton again for Rembrandt was a natural move; for his part Laughton threw himself into research, spending time living in Amsterdam, and even taking painting lessons to seem more comfortable in the studio scenes. However, not all time on the set was easy. Apparently Gertrude Lawrence, a renowned stage actor, wasn't enjoying the filming process and was rather disruptive. The lavish set design was contributed by Vincent Korda, the brother of Alexander. Ultimately, the film was a commercial failure but a critical success. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Rembrandt was the first film to have a trailer projected on an airplane by television transmission. The projection took place on a fourteen-passenger flight bound for London. 

Some other notable film-related events in 1936*:

  • The Screen Directors Guild was organized by a number of Hollywood filmmakers, choosing director King Vidor as its first president (he served from 1936-1938). The Guild was renamed the Director's Guild of America (DGA) in 1960.
  • American film producer Irving Thalberg died at the age of 37 - he had been dubbed the "Boy Wonder" for his brilliant ability to selectively choose successful film projects. As MGM's head of production, he was responsible for many MGM classics, including the aforementioned Romeo and Juliet that starred his wife Norma Shearer.
  • After a short one-year contract with MGM expired, 14-year-old starlet-singer Deanna Durbin signed with Universal Studios and made her first feature film, the successful musical comedy Three Smart Girls , reportedly saving the studio from bankruptcy. 
  • The first screen adventure for Flash Gordon, the comic strip character created by Alex Raymond in 1934, was Universal Pictures' 13 episode serial Flash Gordon (1936), starring Buster Crabbe.

*Thanks to Filmsite.org

My Random Observations

  • I expect that as a filmmaker focusing on the life of a great painter, you must be under pressure to produce as beautiful a film as possible, for obvious reasons. This film is stunning in its period imagery and costumes, and the cinematography of Georges Périnal ran the gamut from long shots to close-ups in glorious black and white (see Screenshots section below).
  • Charles Laughton's big personality works here. He's in almost every scene and the success of the film rides on his performance. I'm not sure whether writer Zuckmeyer or Korda insisted that this film feature more than one Laughton monologue because of his success reciting the entire Gettysburg Address in Ruggles of Red Gap the year before, but be warned, there are at least two of them here. They stop the action, and while excellently delivered, I fidgeted just a bit.
  • I admit to knowing nothing about Rembrandt's life. If the filmmakers were setting out to emphasize the lows of his life, they succeeded. Perhaps not as tragic as Van Gogh's, it wasn't an easy one. Once again, if there was any doubt, we are reminded that revered painters did not always have it easy in their day.
  • Roger Livesey is a favorite of mine for the films he made with Powell and Pressburger in the 1940s. He spent his entire film and stage career in Britain, and it's always a delight when he pops up in these earlier movies. He is completely unrecognizable as "Beggar Saul", but his voice gave him away for me! As a bit of trivia, his two brothers AND his father had small parts in this film.
Livesey in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
(1943).
  • Even though Elsa Lanchester (Laughton's wife) was not Korda's first choice for Hendrickje, I thought she was perfect here - she radiated beauty in a way I've never seen, not to mention her kindness and steeliness.
Screenshots
Here's a Rembrandt self-portrait opening the 
film credits, perhaps urging us to appreciate
how closely Laughton will resemble him.
 
In his early years, Rembrandt loved to spend money on
jewels for his wife Saskia. His friend is a bit concerned.

Rembrandt and villagers in Old Amsterdam.

Rembrandt's brutally honest "The Night Watch" is unveiled,
and doesn't get the reaction that would ensure
him career success.

Newly cynical Rembrandt is a bit perturbed at the 
criticism of his recent work. 

Rembrandt family housekeeper Geertje Dirx (Gertrude
Lawrence) plots to move in after the untimely death of 
Rembrandt's wife Saskia.

Roger Livesey as the beggar who becomes
King Saul in a sitting in Rembrandt's studio.

As King Saul

Rembrandt returns briefly to his humble birth home and
 village and eats supper with the fam.

In Rembrandt's birthplace, the villagers make merry.

Elsa Lanchester as Rembrandt's common-law
wife Hendrickje. Here she's getting ready
to sit for her portrait, what else?

This time, Rembrandt is not deluding himself
about the grave condition of someone he loves.

I think Laughton studied Rembrandt's self
portraits to put on this face.

The aged painter enjoying the attentions of a merry
young group enthralled with his wit.

Where to Watch
Criterion released a quartet of Korda films focusing on major figures ("Private Lives"); this one is in that set. I saw the film on Archive.org here.

Further Reading
As usual, TCM offers a nice essay about the film here. The AFI also has some interesting production tidbits, including from the recollections of Elsa Lanchester, here.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Fifty Years of Film in 50 Weeks, #15: The Informer, 1935

"Then Judas repented himself - and cast down the thirty pieces of silver - and departed." 

The Informer, 1935

Director: John Ford
Writer: Dudley Nichols, from the novel by Liam O'Flaherty
Cinematographer:  Joseph H. August 
Produced by: John Ford for RKO Radio Pictures.
Starring: Victor McLaglen, Heather Angel, Preston Foster, Margot Grahame, Wallace Ford, Una O'Connor, Donald Meek
Music: Max Steiner

Why I chose it
This tied for first in my Twitter poll, but the Oscars the film won, especially the score by Steiner and Best Actor for Victor McLaglen, convinced me I needed to see this early John Ford talkie, which won him his first Best Director Oscar.

'No-spoiler' plot overview
In one Dublin evening during the Irish Civil War of 1922, a brutish, desperate, recently court-martialed ex-member of the IRA Gypo Nolan (McLaglen), informs on a fellow rebel (Wallace Ford) to the British 'Black and Tan' authorities and comes to regret this act, as the rebel is killed and Nolan quickly wastes the 20 pounds he gained for his informing.

Production Background 
John Ford was a successful director during the silent era and made a grudging transition to sound, employed by Fox. There he made epics and bucolic "Griffithian" dramas according to his biographer, Scott Eyman. When he switched to RKO, his style changed, and he indulged his love of German expressionistic technique, which was infused into the dark night settings and dramatic lighting of The Informer. McLaglen and Ford were collaborators for decades, both hard-drinking Celtic souls who somehow found great humanity in their films' characters. Tales told that McLaglen was actually drunk during his scenes of inebriation were debunked much later by Ford himself. 

Ford specifically requested composer Max Steiner for the movie based on his score for The Lost Patrol made with Ford the previous year. Previews were lukewarm, making the production team nervous, but critics were rapturous and surprising most, it earned a hefty profit. Based on this reception and the resulting Oscars, Ford was now a bona fide star director, coveted by the industry despite his being difficult to work with. As for Steiner, he won his first Oscar, and much praise for his score. Director Frank Capra even sent him a telegram exclaiming the score was the best he'd ever heard (Music by Max Steiner, by Steven C. Smith, 2020).

Some other notable film-related events in 1935*:

  • RKO's and Rouben Mamoulian's Becky Sharp (1935) was the first feature-length Technicolor film to be shot entirely in 3-strip color - a milestone film dramatizing William Makepeace Thackeray's novel Vanity Fair with Miriam Hopkins in the title role.
  • British director Alfred Hitchcock became an internationally famous figure for his thriller The 39 Steps.
  • Twentieth Century Pictures (founded in 1933 by Darryl F. Zanuck and Joseph Schenck) and the Fox Film Corporation (founded by William Fox in 1915) merged to form 20th Century-Fox, overseen by Schenck and Zanuck.
  • Selznick International Pictures, a major Hollywood motion picture studio, was founded in 1935 by David O. Selznick, who had left MGM. As an independent producer, David O. Selznick served as a "one-man" film industry with tremendous authority and power over the selection of stars and decisions of directors.
  • Olivia de Havilland debuted in film with A Midsummer's Night Dream

*Thanks to Filmsite.org

My Random Observations

  • For the first quarter of the film, this feels like a silent. There are long dialogue-free stretches, with dramatic music, expressionistic lighting and close-ups of faces overcome with emotion.  This isn't surprising, as Ford, experienced in directing silent film, was emerging from that era to the new 'talking picture' era that he would master as well. As a fan of the late silent period, I loved this "throw-back" feeling, considering much of the early 1930s were pre-Code dialogue-rich offerings.
  • Despite its minimalist sets, unsubtle symbolism and expressionistic filming technique, the film feels authentic. Ford, a son of Irish immigrants, had a knack for getting the culture down. It truly felt like you were looking at real events in war-torn Dublin through perhaps a distorted lens. Credit should go, of course, to McLaglen, whose towering central performance is believable if heavily dramatic.
  • Someone should write an opera from this story. Having not read the novel, I'm not sure if the outlines of the plot are more complex than in the film, but the simple story, filled with high-pitched emotion and stirring action, and its short time frame would be perfect set to music. Perhaps some of Steiner's score could inspire the composer, along with popular Irish tunes inflected with appropriate dissonance, of course.
  • Once again, I'm taking a moment to laud one of my favorite character actors: this time, Wallace Ford. No relation to director John, Ford had a difficult early life but emerged in movies with his raw talent in the early 1930s to take on flawed leading men or secondary parts that put his boyish enthusiasm and bluster with a natural vulnerability bordering on weakness of character to good use. The part of the doomed Frankie McPhillip is perfect for him. If his Irish accent isn't consistent, well, it's not uncommon for actors to not quite nail difficult accents (although Ford was born in England so... hmmm.). Ford was handsome and likeable as a young actor, and aged, as many do, with a few extra pounds, continuing his career through the early 1960s. His last role was of the brow-beaten grandfather in A Patch of Blue with Sidney Poitier, Shelley Winters, and Elizabeth Hartman.
    Wallace Ford in middle age (Wikipedia)

Screenshots

Our first glimpse of conflicted, downtrodden Gypo.

Gypo considers the reward offered for the capture of his compatriot.

A street tenor (Denis O'Dea) sings 'The Rose of Tralee'

A side of character actor Donald Meek that we rarely see. 
Here he's sizing up streetwalker Katie.

Katie and Gypo pine to escape war-torn Dublin. If they 
only had the cash.

Frankie McPhillip (Wallace Ford) wanted and hiding.

Gypo and Frankie share confidences at an IRA hangout.

Gypo in the act of informing.

Frankie beset by the Black and Tans.

Frankie's mother collapses in grief.

Gypo with Frankie's mother and sister, trying to hide his guilt.

Gypo, buying everyone a meal, is very popular for a few minutes.

 A biblical denouement as Gypo repents his guilt before 
a life-sized crucifix and Frankie's mother.

Frankie tries to negotiate with IRA leaders Gallagher and 
Mulholland (Preston Foster & Joe Sawyer).

Desperate lovers Gypo and Katie (Margot Grahame) have a tender moment.

Where to Watch
The film is available on DVD (Warner Bros. Archive) and currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I watched, and other streaming platforms.

Further Reading
I enjoyed the Self-Styled Siren's essay looking at the evolution of film criticism centered on the film, and also this SUNY-Albany article with production tidbits.