Showing posts with label Dalton Trumbo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dalton Trumbo. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Tender Comrade (1943)

"Teacher, Tender Comrade, Wife. A fellow farer true through life. Heart-whole and soul-free. The August Father gave to me." – Robert Louis Stevenson

Tender Comrade (1943) is a sentimental WWII drama much in the style of Since You Went Away (1944). It follows the story of Jo Jones (Ginger Rogers) a fiesty and strong-willed woman married to mild-mannered soldier Chris (Robert Ryan). After Chris’ 24 hour leave, the two say their goodbyes at a train station as he travels overseas for battle. Doing her part for the war effort, Jo works at a local aircraft factory as a welder. She becomes friendly with a trio of women who've also been left behind. There’s Barbara (Ruth Hussey), an embittered woman who harbors bad feelings for her sailor husband. She openly dates other men and is the voice of discontent among the group. Then there is Doris (Kim Hunter), a sweet and starry-eyed newlywed. A proposal and quickie marriage left her in a suspended virginal state. Then there's Helen (Patricia Collinge), the matriarch and most level-headed of the bunch. Both her husband and son are away at war. All the women struggle to make ends meet and Jo comes up with an idea: they’ll all move in together and share the expenses equally. They add a fifth, Manya (Mady Christians), a German refugee whose husband is fighting the good fight against the Nazis. She takes on a job as a housekeeper. We follow their stories as they adjust to this new arrangement. The film is broken up with flashbacks of scenes from Jo and Chris’ courtship and marriage. It’s equal parts touching and tragic, just as you’d expect a WWII movie to be.

Written by Dalton Trumbo and directed by Edward Dmytryk, Tender Comrade was produced by RKO. Several endings were filmed in order to get just the right tone for the end product. According to Robert Ryan biographer Frank Jarlett, “the picture did well financially, earning $843,00 in profits for RKO, mainly because its tone of patriotic righteous indignation registered in the public’s mind at a peak emotional time.”

Ginger Rogers was on a high point in her career. She had won an Academy Award for her performance in Kitty Foyle (which was also written by Dalton Trumbo). That film did well for RKO and Tender Comrade was a psuedo follow-up to that success. For Tender Comrade, Rogers was billed as the “chin-up girl”, a role model for women embodying the ideal of strength and resilience during wartime. The film premiered in Los Angeles on December 29, 1943, just under the wire to have Rogers’ performance qualify for Academy Award submission. In the end, she didn’t receive a nomination and the film was released to the general public in June 1944. I’ve always been partial to Ginger Rogers and her performances but I felt her role as Jo was overbearing. Perhaps it was the long speeches and the constant bickering, but I found her character not as sympathetic as I wanted her to be.

On the other hand, Chris Jones was an exceptionally good part for Robert Ryan, who was still in the early days of his long acting career. Playing a leading romantic part with a major movie star helped put him on the map. Ryan is incredibly charming in this film. It’s a shame Hollywood relegated him to roles as heavies and villains because there was a “tender” side to him that really shone through.

A few years after its release, Tender Comrade developed a reputation for its perceived Communist agenda. During the HUAC investigations, the film singled out for subversive propaganda and for the term “Comrade” and its connection to Communist Russia. Although the phrase "tender comrade" is a reference to Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem The Wife and is quoted at the very start of the film, its reasonable to consider an intended dual meaning.

Trumbo is one of my favorite writers and a huge influence in my life. Reading his novel Johnny Got His Gun completely altered my perspective on the world and I tend to gravitate towards his works. I enjoyed the social commentary and the political subtext of the film even though I thought it to be overly sentimental.

Trumbo was singled out by Lela Rogers, Ginger Rogers mother, during a HUAC hearing. During the filming of Tender Comrade, Rogers started to take issue with some of the dialogue and this was a very dialogue-driven film. In one scene, the German housekeeper receives her husband medal of honor in the mail. Its decided that the medal belongs to all of them and not just Manya. Rogers was supposed to deliver the line “share and share alike, that’s democracy” but instead it was given to Kim Hunter. The film has a bit of a socialist agenda: the give women split their profits evenly, Manya becomes upset at perceived excess and Doris confesses hoarding lipsticks. However I felt the movie as had some strong patriotic messaging. There is Ginger Rogers’ grand speech about the sacrifice needed to live in a better world. And there are various references to being patriotic through rationing and also anti-German and Japanese sentiment. But in the end Dmytryk and Trumbo were both blacklisted by the HUAC and Hollywood. Dmytryk went into exile only to return to the US and give testimony which eventually cleared him from the blacklist. Trumbo was more defiant. After being jailed, he continued to work in Hollywood under pseudonyms. It wasn’t until both Otto Preminger (Exodus) and Kirk Douglas (Spartacus) publicly listed Trumbo as screenwriter in their respective films that the blacklist officially ended.

Tender Comrade holds an important place in the history of WWII films and the Hollywood Blacklist. This film makes its DVD debut thanks to the good folks at the Warner Archive Collection.

Tender Comrade (1943) is available on DVD-MOD from the Warner Archive Collection.When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thanks!

The Warner Archive trio George, D.W. and Matt discuss the film (about 25 minutes in) on the A Colossal Collection episode of their podcast.

 Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me Tender Comrade (1943) to review!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Sorority House (1939)

Sorority House (1939)

Alice Fisher (Anne Shirley) and her father Lew (J.M. Kerrigan) live simple lives. Mr. Fisher runs a humble grocery story and his bright daughter helps him with the ins and outs of the business. Attending Talbot University is a pipe dream for Alice until her father surprises her with a selfless gift. He sacrifices what little money he has for two years tuition so Alice can fulfill her dream. Once at college, Alice immediately gets caught up the social politics of sorority culture. Being part of a good sorority, like the Gamma House, ensures a proper standing in campus culture.

Anne Shirley and J.M. Kerrigan in Sorority House (1939)
Anne Shirley and J.M. Kerrigan
"I'll miss your brains." - Mr. Fisher to his daughter Alice

Alice rooms with two very different coeds. First there is Dotty (Barbara Read), a wise-cracking dame who befriends Alice and rejects sorority culture because she's been rejected herself. She refers to fellow rejects as dreeps (a dreary college girls who weep). Then there is Merle (Adele Pearce, later known as Pamela Blake) who has drunk the sorority Kool-Aid and wants nothing more than to be a member of the Gamma House. Alice and Merle soon discover the downside of sorority rushes. Merle becomes the target of powerful Gamma sorority ice queen Neva (Doris Jordan, later known as Doris Davenport). Alice gets a boost from medical student Bill Loomis (James Ellison), a big man on campus who has a lot of sway with the Gamma girls. However, Alice starts to lose sight of her values and the simple lifestyle her father taught her, as she gets caught up in the tangle of campus life.

Anne Shirley, Barbara Read and Pamela Blake in Sorority House (1939)
Anne Shirley, Barbara Read and Pamela Blake

"That doesn't sound very democratic to me." - Alice
"Whoever told you college was democratic? - Dotty

Directed by John Farrow, Sorority House (1939) is a collegiate drama released by RKO. Based on a story by Mary Coyle Chase, the script is injected with a poignant social message by screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. As I do with many of Dalton Trumbo's works, I had quite a strong reaction to the story line and characters. At one point I felt the urge to slap Alice across the face and burn the Gamma House down to the ground. The story hooks you from that initially emotionally heartwarming scene so when the kick in the butt comes at the story's climax you feel it. Sorority House isn't just your run-of-the-mill collegiate fluff. It's a story with an important social message. It warns against the dangers of groups like sororities that do a lot of damage when they exclude or try to control others behaviors. The moral of the story: "live and let live."

"The essence of success is a good start." - Mrs. Scott (Elizabeth Risdon)

I particularly enjoyed the performances by J.M. Kerrigan and Anne Shirley. Poor James Ellison has a rather weak role as Alice's boyfriend. He's really there for the plot and doesn't add much more to the movie which is unfortunate. Actresses Veronica Lake and Marge Champion have bit roles as coeds. I wasn't able to spot them but maybe someone with a sharp eye can. Chill Wills has a brief role at the start of the film.

Anne Shirley and James Ellison

1930s era Sorority House
The Gamma girls

I have absolutely no interest in modern collegiate life so I live vicariously through these old movies. Sorority House has it's silly and somewhat backwards moments (like Mr. Fisher telling Dotty she might not become an Abe Lincoln but she could be the mother of a future president). However, I loved it's overall message. If you're looking for a good double bill, I recommend Sorority House (1939) with RKO's Finishing School (1934), both available from the Warner Archive Collection.

Sorority House (1939) is available on DVD-MOD from Warner Archive. You can purchase the DVD from the WB Shop. Use my buy links to shop and you will help support this site. Thanks!

 Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me a copy of Sorority House (1939) to review!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Trumbo by Bruce Cook

by Bruce Cook
Grand Central Publishing
originally published 1977
ISBN: 97814555564972
352 pages

Barnes and Noble

Dalton Trumbo changed my life. The year was 1997. I was a junior in high school and up until that point English was my worst subject. My English teacher assigned us to read Trumbo’s novel Johnny Got His Gun. I didn’t fully realize the power of a good story until I read that book. Put into the hands of a master story teller, a reader can be transported into a completely different world and expose them to thoughts, feelings and ideas that would have normally been outside of their realm of understanding. Reading Trumbo’s novel set me on the path for my present career in book publishing for a lifelong love of literature and film.

“The writer is the ship’s architect and the director is the captain.” – Dalton Trumbo
Trumbo mastered the craft of writing whether it was with novels, screenplays, political speeches, essays or short stories. He had a proficiency in the technical aspects of writing that made him a mainstay in Hollywood. Trumbo found his biggest success working as a screenwriter for various studios during the 1940s and into the 1970s. He continued to write even when he was blacklisted by Hollywood and had to use fake names or the names of other writers as a cover.

Biographer Bruce Cook spent the summer of 1973 interviewing Dalton Trumbo at his home. He also spoke extensively with Trumbo’s family and industry peers. At the time, Trumbo was suffering from the effects of the cancer that would eventually kill him and the biography starts with his time writing for Papillon (1973) and his cancer diagnosis. The reader is then transported back to Trumbo's hometown of Grand Junction, Colorado where we learn about his family and upbringing, the influence his father had on him as well as the circumstances that brought the family to Los Angeles.

Trumbo would never have become a screenwriter if he hadn’t made that move to LA. He found himself at the right place and the right time to start a career in Hollywood. Trumbo began as a reader for Warner Bros. then established himself as a screenwriter working on movies for Columbia Pictures, MGM, RKO as well as independent producers such as the King brothers. Films discussed in the book include Tender Comrades (1943), A Guy Named Joe (1943), Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), Gun Crazy (1950), Roman Holiday (1953), Spartacus (1960), Exodus (1960), Johnny Got His Gun (1971) and Papillon (1973).
“It was a campaign, brilliantly planned and daringly executed, and Trumbo was the general.”
It was inevitable that Trumbo’s political views would get him in trouble. He joined the Communist party in 1943 and four years later he would be facing the House of Un-American Activities Committee. His defiance landed him in jail for 10 months when he was found in contempt of Congress. It was during the Waldorf Agreement of 1947 that the movie moguls named Dalton Trumbo as one of the Hollywood Ten and he would be blacklisted from Hollywood for over a decade. What’s remarkable about Trumbo is that he fought against the blacklist before it even began and chipped away at it until it finally broke down. Trumbo kept writing and his movies kept getting made even if his name didn’t appear in the credits. While some sources point to Kirk Douglas’ credit of Trumbo for Spartacus (1960) as the beginning of the end of the blacklist, this biography points to Otto Preminger naming Trumbo as the writer for his screenplay of Exodus (1960), an announcement that made the front page of The New York Times.

Dalton Trumbo facing down the HUAC
“Breaking the blacklist became a kind of monomania with him. He saw to it that as much movie work as possible was directed to writers who were, like himself, working on the black market. Trumbo did an enormous amount of work during this period, but he passed nearly as much of it on to others. He was determined that so many scripts be written by those on the blacklist under pseudonyms, behind front names, or however, that the blacklist itself would become a kind of joke. And that, of course, was exactly what happened.”

The focus of this biography is Trumbo’s amazing career as a screenwriter. We learn some things about his family, a bit about his wife Cleo and less about his children. This isn’t a profile of a man; this is a profile of a screenwriter. Readers do get some insight into Trumbo’s personality but what more we could have learned was set aside to make room for some of the extraordinary events in his career. This is an authorized biography of Trumbo but the man himself had very little input and the final product was left to biographer Cook’s capable hands.

Trumbo by Bruce Cook was brought back into print with a new package just in time for the release of the Trumbo (2015), a film based on Cook’s biography. This new edition includes a foreword by filmmaker John McNamara chronicling the life of his copy of the original book as well as an insert featuring behind the scenes photographs from the movie. Both of these add-ons seemed unnecessary and while they make this a true movie tie-in edition, they don’t really add anything of value to the book.
“Trumbo was that, certainly: a prodigy of the will. He hung in there—survived, prevailed, even triumphed on a couple of occasions. Ultimately, that is why he is worth our attention.”
Not without its problems, Trumbo by Bruce Cook does stand as a definitive biography of the legendary writer Dalton Trumbo given his involvement as well as in-depth interviews with sources who are no longer with us. There is some bias from Cook’s point of view but not as much as there would be had Trumbo written it himself. This biography stands up many years later where others would have quickly become outdated or irrelevant. The true value of the book to modern day readers is its extensive chronicling of the history of the Hollywood blacklist and Trumbo’s role in breaking it down. It’s a period of history of interest to many film buffs and there is a wealth of information about it in this book.

At the time of writing this review I have not yet seen Trumbo (2015) and I’m curious to see how this biography was used in the making of the film. I think it’s important for classic film fans to go beyond actors, actresses and directors and to learn about the other important people who were responsible for making their favorite movies.

Thank you to Grand Central Publishing for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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