Skip to main content

Full text of "The Velvet Light Trap No. 01 [1971-06] ("Warner Brothers In The Thirties")"

See other formats


THE VELVET LIGHT TRAP 

REVIEW OF CINEMA sot NO. 1 











THE VELVET LIGHT TRAP 


contents 


notes on contributors 


Warner brothers In the Thirties V'^ELl CAKFbSLL 2 

An Analysis of the Gangster Movies 
of the Early Thirties ARTHUR JACKS 

Hawks at Earner Brothersi 1932 GERALD FSARY 

and STEPHEN GROARK 12 

T At a Fugitive From a Chain Gang RUSSELL CAFP3EI.L 17 


Some l«arners Musicals and the spirit of 
the New Deal PARK ROTH 


RUSSELL CAMFBELL Is a film student at the Univer¬ 
sity of Wisconsin. He studied previously at the 
Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, 
and at the London School of Film Technique, 
where he edited the magazine backtrack . He was 
an extra In ALFRED THE GREAT and Is co-author of 
an (unfllmed) screenplay, The Scalpel of Dr. 
Kubelka. Currently writing a thesis on Wellman 
at Warners, ne has contributed to Sight and Sound . 

. . Focus on rlla . International 

-- J ‘nal. and Is compiler/ 


Captain 31ood JOHN DAVIS 


THE VELVET LIGHT TRAP Is an occasional Journal of 
film history and criticism published for the 
Madison film community by the Arizona Jim Co-op, 
c/- The 6o? Club, 602 University Ave., Madison, 
Wisconsin 53703- 

Editor Russell Campbell 

Design Gretchen Hunter 

Special thanks to Susan Grossman, John Davis, 

Susan Davis, Joe Kc3rlde, and the Wisconsin 
Center for Theatre Research. 

subscriptions |2.00 for four Issues (overseas 12.50). 
Checks payable to The Velvet Light Trap. 


JOHN DAVIS Is a graduate stuaent whose basic edu¬ 
cation In the subject occurred during the Fifties 
when even Kadlson stations showed several movies 
each day. While other kids were playing In the 
sun he sat in a darkened room watching anything 
made before 19 1 *5. However his tastes have broad¬ 
ened somewhat since, and the Fertile Valley Film 
Society, which he and Tom Flinn organized In 1968, 
has even shown a few films made In the Fifties and 
Sixties. He Is currently writing a book on 
Michael Curtiz. 

STEPHEN GROARK Is presently unemployed, formerly a 
graduate student In literature and film at the Uni¬ 
versity of Wisconsin. 

GERALD PEARY Is a former Instructor In film and drama 
at Whitewater State University, and Is currently work¬ 
ing on a Fh.D. thesis In film In UW's Communication 
Arts Department, studying the changing gangster genre 
at Warner brothers studio, 193°“35. Kr. Feary writes 
a regular column of film criticism called Screen Gems 
for The Dally Cardinal , and has published on W. C. 


-Tinted by EconoPrlnt. 

No.l. earner brothers In the Thirties 
(plus SCARFACE) 


MARK ROTH received nls K.A. In English from the 
University of Wisconsin (Madison). He taught at 
Kent State University (Ohio), and Is currently 
studying film at UW. 


June 1971 50 cents 

Copyright 1971 by Russell Campbell. First printing 
oniyi all rights revert to authors. 

Cover. FC0TLIGH7 PARADE 


ARTHUR SACKS received his b.A. 

from Srooklyn College in 1967. From 196 * 5 - 67 , KrT 
ocaks was Editor of the creative arts publication, 
rlverrun . and has published poetry In Julxote . He 
received his K.A. In English Literature from the 
University of Wisconsin (Kadlson) In 1968, Mr. 

Sacks Is at present In the process of completing 
his Ih.D. degree In English Literature, concentrating 
on 20th century Srltlsh and American writing. 


1 



















Warner Brothers in the Thirties: 

SOME TENTATIVE NOTES 

BY RISStLL CAMPBKl.L 


WARNER BROTHERS, like the other 3tucllos In the Thir¬ 
ties, had Its weaknesses. Warners films were short 
on glamor—the province of Paramount and M-G-M—and 
short on fantasy—Universal's territory. Sets at 
Warners were customarily bare and workmanllkei direc¬ 
tors (with the Important exceptions of Curtiz and 
Busby Berkeley) seldom aimed at pictorial effect 
In composing their shotsi cameramen worked In an 
austere, functional style far removed from the rich 
expressionism of a Lee Garmes or a William Daniels. 

The scale of a film could be Judged by Its budget, 
and In 1932 the average production cost per feature 
at Warners was estimated at $’ n Q,000, lowest of the 
majors except for Columbia (*175,000)i M-G-M. by 
comparison, averaged .$450,000. It was only after 
the middle of the decade that Warners began to spend 
large sums on super-productions, and then tlght- 
flstedly. 

Understandably, the genres In which Warners ex¬ 
celled were limited. Against the Paramount comedy 
line-up of Lubltsch-Mae West-Marx Brothers-W.C.Fields, 
Warners pitted Joe E. Brown. The studio seldom at¬ 
tempted romantic, exotic or theatrical melodrama, and 
when It did It would botch the Job. It wasn't In the 
market to compete with a war spectacle like HELL'S 
ANGELS or a spectacle Western like THE BIG TRAIL. The 
Westerns that did come out of Warners studios were 
around 59 minutes longi they will need to be re-seen 
to be evaluated, but there Is no reason to believe 
them superior to their counterparts from Columbia, 
Universal, Pox, RK0, Monogram or Republic. There was 
no Warners Garbo or Dietrich, and consequently no 
equivalents to QUEEN CHRISTINA or THE SCARLET EMPRESS. 

In the realm of horror and science fiction, Warners 
was responsible for only a tiny handful of movies. 

Moreover, the most personal directors of the Thir¬ 
ties were either at other studios—Lubltsch and Stern¬ 
berg at Paramount, Ford at Fox, Capra at Columbia, 

Cukor at RK0 and M-G-M—or Itinerants, like Hawks and 
Lang. Warners kept a stable of efficient technicians 
whose Individual touch was not easily discernible, and 
this may rightly be seen as a limitation. 

But on the other hand It Is precisely this sub¬ 
mergence of the Individual within the Warners col¬ 
lective that Is at the root of the studio's strength. 

For Warners films In the Thirties bristled with per¬ 
sonality, even though they were the product of a group 
with no clearly defined artistic leader. Crime and 
gangster movies, musicals, social expose films and 
costume adventure epics were Warners' major achieve¬ 
ments, and In them was forged a unique style—a 
collective style—which was to be a major contrl- 
butlon to the development of American cinema. It was 
a style characterized at Its best by fast-paced cutting, 
racy dialogue, authentic sets, sharp naturalistic 
performances, a frankness towards sex, and a skepti¬ 
cism towards authority In politics, business, law or 
culture. And during the early Thirties, In particular, 
this style was adopted In films which subjected Amer¬ 
ican society to critical scrutiny with a realism un¬ 
precedented In Hollywood history. 

Just why Warners should have developed In this 
direction after the coming of sound and under the 
Impact of the Depression Is still obscure. There 
Is little In the previous work of the company which 
foreshadows the Thirties style. 

The Warner br othe rs—Harry (1881-1958), Albert 
(1884-1967), Sam (1888-1927) and Jack (b. 1892)—were 
the sons of a Polish cobbler, Ben Warner, who came 
to the United States In 1883. The family settled 
eventually In Youngstown, Ohio, where Ben established 
a butcher's shop/general store. 

In 1904 Harry and Albert bought a film projector 
and began presenting traveling shows. Jack went along 
as a boy soprano to hasten the departure of the crowd 
at the end of each performance. From 1905 to 1907 
the brothers operated the Cascades cinema In Newcastle, 
Pennsylvania, and then went Into film distribution, 
with head office In Pittsburgh and branches In Maryland 
and Georgia. 

, Pressure from the Patents Company forced them to 
<3 sell out In 1910, and they returned to exhibition with 
/FOUR YEARS in GERMANY, that Warners was established as 


a tiny but genuine competitor with the major studios 
of the time. 

Warner Brothers under Its present title was Incor¬ 
porated In 1923, and In the following year the firm 
absorbed Vltagraph, one of the Patent Company members 
and began the acquisition of cinemas. Head Office of 
the company was established In New York, with Harry 
President and Albert Vice-President and Treasurer 1 In 
Hollywood, Jack was Vice-President In charge of pro¬ 
duction. This arrangement was to continue throughout 
the Thirties, despite several stockholders' attempts 
to remove the brothers from control of the company. 

In June 1925 Warners signed an agreement with West¬ 
ern Electric to develop a sound film system. This 
association gave birth to the Vltaphone technique, 
using synchronized wax cylinders and later discs 1 It 
was the first successful sound system and propelled 
Warners to a position at the head of the major compa¬ 
nies In the late Twenties. The pioneering presenta¬ 
tions were DON JUAN (August 6, 1926)—synchronized 
orchestral score and spoken Introduction by Will Hays 
THE JAZZ SINGER (October 6, 1927)—songs and short 
dialogue sequences 1 THE LIGHTS OF NEW YORK (July 1928 
all-talkie 1 and ON WITH THE SHOW (1929) — "sll-talklng 
all-slnglng, all-dancing, 100* all-color." Sam Warne: 
died In 1927 after overwork on the Vltaphone develop¬ 
ment. 

Before the success with sound, the company was 
financially unstable and stayed alive during the 
mld-Twentles mainly on the strength of the Rln Tin 
Tin features, of which FIND YOUR MAN (1924) was the 
first (It was as a writer of these. Incidentally, 
that Darryl Zanuck was to make his first Impression). 
Warners capitalized on Its lead In sound with a vastly 
expanded production program which at one stage called 
for a $50,000,000 bank loan. Returns Justified the 
lnvestmenti net Income for the first eight months of 
1929 was $17,000,000 compared with $30,000 In a simi¬ 
lar period two years previously. In 1929 Warners 
further consolidated Its position by acquiring First 
National, taking over the studio at Burbank, the 
extensive First National Exhibitors Circuit, and many 
prominent stars. Warners thus entered the Thirties 
In an exceptionally strong financial condition, which 
enabled It to weather a series of losses during the 
Depression (average weekly U.S. cinema attendance 
dropped from 110 million In 1930 to 75 million In 
1931 and only gradually picked up). 

Warners' Interest In topical, political subjects 
can be traced back to MY FOUR YEARS IN GERMANY, which 
was based on the memoirs of the then U.S. Ambassador, 
while two Sinclair Lewis adaptations, MAIN STREET 
(1923) and BABBITT (1924), may be regarded as pre¬ 
cursors of Warners Thirties realism. John Barrymore 
pictures such as BEAU BRUMMEL (1923) and THE SEA 
BEAST (1925) foreshadowed the epics Curtiz was later 
to make with Errol Flynn. But these pictures were 
by no means uniquely characteristic of the studio 
prior to 1930. It Is significant to note, for 
example, that It was Warners which signed Lubltsch 
to a five-picture contract In 1924 after his one film 
for Mary Plckford. Michael Curtiz, too, was brought 
over from Germany on the strength of his heavily 
baroque camera style. 

At the time of the acquisition of First National, 
Warners shifted much of Its production to Burbank, 
and In 1931 the old Sunset Boulevard studio was closed 
except for the making of shorts. It was the location 
of the Burbank studio, In the San Fernando valley some 
distance from Hollywood and Los Angeles, that could 
account In some measure for the growth of the Warners 
collective style. During a recent television docu¬ 
mentary on Warners In the Thirties, more than one 
participant recalled the sense of community which 
grew up during the long hours worked. Burbank became 
a self-contained world. 

But If the films were a collective effort, they 
were collective In a very special sense. Discipline 
was strict and each specialist department tended to 
perform Its assigned task Independently of the others. 
There was little active collaboration, for example, 
between screenwriter and director, or director and 
editor. When Head of Production, Darryl Zanuck would 
specify that no scripted dialogue was to be changed 
on set without the authorization of the production 
office. According to John Huston, who was at Warners 
during the late Thirties, only Hawks, Wyler, and at 
one period Dleterle worked on their scripts, while 
one screenwriter in fifty knew Hal Wallis when he was 
Head of Production (quoted In Humphrey 3ogart , by 
Bernard Elsenschltz). The experience of Robert Rossen 
2 who was a writer during the same period, was however^ 




P ier different, and though It Is probably fair to 
one It v*as atypical. It Is worth notlngi 
It was a formidable team. They didn't simply 
push subjects under your nose. Within reasonable 
limits, you were able to choose what went through 
the story department. Hal Wallis, Head of Production, 
respected the writers and didn't force them to 
accept orders they didn't agree with. Within the 
necessary limits of a certain discipline I was 
remarkably free. Besides, most of the time I 
worked with directors rather than producers. 
(Elsenschltz) 

One of the most curious and striking features 
of Warner Brothers during the Thirties, one which 
marked It off from the other studios and signifi¬ 
cantly Influenced Its films, was Its steadfast support 
for the Roosevelt administration. The phenomenon 
Is not wholly explained, It seeems to me, In terms of 
Harry Warner's fear of Impending revolution (see 
John Davis's article). For one thing, Harry's concern 
was probably not a patch on that of arch-Republlcan 
Louis B. Mayer and the other tycoons. Por another, 
when revolutionary themes appear In Warners films 
of the period they are generally treated seriously 
and sympathetically, not merely (In the Paramount 
fashion) as decorative background, nor (In the M-G-M 
fashion) as an occasion for bourgeois self-congratu¬ 
lation. Compare, for example, the Russian Revolution 
as It appears in Curtiz's BRITISH AGENT (193*0. 
Sternberg's THE LAST COMMAND , and Lubltsch's NINOTCHKA 
(for M-G-M, 1939). As John Davis notes, the Curtlz- 
Flynn epics were antl-authorltarlan and sympathetic 
to revolti while the Paul Muni biography pictures 
were also radical In tendency, with THE LIFE OF EMILE 
ZOLA (1937) concentrating on the Dreyfus affair, and 
JUAREZ (1939) exalting the Mexican revolutionary. 

Furthermore, Warners was the only studio to feature 
working class characters with any regularity. Shop 
girls, bellhops, linen girls, barbers, stenographers, 
taxi drivers were presented convincingly, without any 
condescension (Indeed, the preoccupations of their 
social betters were normally satirized). Businessmen 
were repeatedly attacked as exploitative or corrupt. 

The orientation of the gangster movies Is also 
Interesting, and Is studied In the article by Arthur 
Sacks In which virtually all the films discussed, 
with the exception of the Independent SCARFACE, are 
Warners products. A revealing comparison Is provided 
by three gangster pictures released within a month of 
each other In Aprll-Hay 1931■ Warners' PUBLIC ENEMY. 
Paramount's CITY STREETS and M-G-M'a THE SECRET SIX. 
PUBLIC ENEMY explicitly links Its gangsters with 
their slum upbringing and repressive (Prohibition) 
legislation, with some cynical comment about offi¬ 
cially approved World War I killing thrown In. 

CITY STREETS, In the sophisticated Paramount manner, 
uses the gang milieu as a colorful backdrop for 
romance. THE SECRET SIX, from the most stolidly 
middle-class studio, views Its gangsters as scabrous 
and moronic and goes to pains to Identify them with 
the working class—the heroes being the respectable 
Secret Six who clean up the city for commerce. 

It was during the Depression that what there was 
of a radical social consciousness In Warners films 
was given Its most direct expression. I AM A 
FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG (1932) contains probably 
the most sustained and uncompromising social orltlolsm 
of the period to emerge from any studio. Arthur Sacks 
cites the Welfare Office sequence In the 1933 
BLONDIE JOHNSON, but there Is a comparable scene 
dating from as early as November 1930 In Archie 
Mayo's DOORWAY TO HELL, In which gang leader Lew 
Ayres revisits the slum street where he grew up 
and points out the dirty shack where milk was sold. 

His brother and sister, he remarks, died of typhoid. 

It Is significant that Warners production chiefs 
(Hal Wallis, Darryl Zanuck, Jack Warner) were recep¬ 
tive to such critical social realism some time before 
the directive from Harry Warner to support Roosevelt 
In his 1932 presidential campaign. (It did, of course, 
happen that even In this period political comment 
failed to make It Into the final moviei Hawks's 
TIGER SHARK, for example, a love triangle, began as 
a radical attack on the ruthless tactics employed by 
big business against small Portuguese Immigrant fish¬ 
ing operations on the California coast.) 

After the victory of Roosevelt, and the consoli¬ 
dation of his administration during 1933, the anger 
which fired many Warners movies during the early 
years of the decade began to be sapped. A lessening 
A of energy and a conciliatory trend become evident, 
flasMark Roth observes In his study of the musicals. 3 


Wellman's 1933 WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD is resolved by ] 
a kindly Judge who assures the repentant rebels that | 
"things are going to be better now, not only here 
but all over the country." BLACK PURY, Curtiz's 
1935 movie about labor battles In a coal mining town, 
Is weakened by a script which suggests that strikes 
are attributable to crooked outside agitators and 
that the miners should be content with their deplor¬ 
able conditions. The dispute In this film Is settled 
by Federal Government Intervention. Another much- 
hailed "expose" film, Mervyn LeRoy's THEY WON'T 
FORGET (1937), Is so hedged about with qualifications 
and uncertainties as to make Its antl-lynchlng 
message dissolve In a porridge of good Intentions. 

It was during the mld-Thlrtles, too, that Warners 
began Its grasp for the awards and profits that 


accompanied middle-brow respectability, which up 
till then had been largely monopolized by M-G-M. 

The awards and profits followed, but the movies, 
of which the Bette Davis DANGEROUS of 1935 Is typical, 
are feeble. Thankfully, rebellious energy found Its 
way Into the series of Curtlz-Flynn epics beginning 
With CAPTAIN BLOOD. 

Becoming sensitive, perhaps, to attacks on the 
radical socio-political stance of certain of the 
company's movies, Harry Warner was anxious to prove 
that Warners had no subversive Intent. Film Dally 
Yearbook of 1939 reported. 

Officers and representatives of the American Legion, 
at the time of their Los Angeles convention. In¬ 
vited him to address them. Obligingly, Harry 
Warner gave them a broadside of scintillating 
Americanism and declared the film Industry free 
from Communistic taint and without sympathy for 
foreign "Isms." To implant In others that flaming 
patriotism of his own, he personally saw to It 
that Warners stepped-up production both of patrio¬ 
tic shorts In color, as well as features having 
American themes. 

Several years later Warners was producing a film, 
MISSION TO MOSCOW, which was so sympathetic to 
Communism as to be almost an apologia for the Sta¬ 
lin purges, but by this time, of course, this was 
In line with Roosevelt's foreign policy and hence 
was congruent with Harry's flaming patriotism. 

It would be wrong to exaggerate the realism of 
Warners productions. Intent on exposing the social 
conditions that made lawlessness an appropriate mode 
of life, for example, Warners films habitually white¬ 
washed criminals, who were frequently depicted as 
charming rogues, like the characters played by 
Edward G. Robinson In SMART MONEY or LITTLE GIANT1 
by Cagney In BLONDE CRAZY or LADY KILLER. Actual 
locations were seldom used—less than they had been 
during the Twenties—and when they were It was 
usually In a montage or as a background In a process 
shot. Nor was Warners Immune from the general Holly¬ 
wood convention of glamorizing their box-office StarB¬ 
and since Warners films were unglamorous vehicles, 
this was singularly Inappropriate. In her auto¬ 
biography The Lonely Life Bette Davis recalls two 
Incidents In which she was forced to fight hard, 
against the director's wishes, for authenticity 1 
once, In BORDERTOWN, for tousled hair and face- 
cream when awaking, and again In MARKED WOMAN, for 
genuine bandaging rather than a "creamy puff of 
gauze" after she has been beaten to 9_pulp by thugs. 

Bette Davis got her way on these occasions, but 
there was a major dispute—a 193® court case In 
London—which she lost to Jack Warner. Jaok was 
an exacting taskmaster, accused of over-using his 
contract players—Joan Blondell appeared In 27 
films In her first 32 months at the studios—and 
major stars fought running battles for the right to 
choose their scripts, or at least veto those they 
didn't like. Davis, Errol Flynn, James Cagney, 
Humphrey Bogart, Olivia deHavllland were constantly 
under suspension, and Jack Warner's court victory 
in 1936 strengthened his hand. DeHavllland finally 
won a case securing protection for actors against 
the Indefinite extension of their contract, but by 
then the decade had ended. 

The fact that the studio whose films were so 
antl-authorltarlan In spirit was highly authori¬ 
tarian In Its own operation was typical of the 
fascinating contradictions of Warners In the 
Thirties which Imbued Its movies with their 
peculiar flavor. It Is the aim of this Issue of ft 
The Velvet Light Trap to begin the reassessment M 
which Is richly deserved. ^^0 






appendix, , aaa. e*ia 


Players 


Output and Financial Returns 


Pr^lt 


7.9 

14.1 

6.3 


Source i Film Dally Yearbook 

(financial data for y 

August 31) 


Prominent stars and featured players at Warners 
during the decade Included, George Arllss, Lionel 
Atwlll, John Barrymore, Richard Harthelraess, Joan 
Blondell, Humphrey Bogart, George Brent, Mary Brian, 
Joe E. Brown, Janes Cagney, Ruth Chatterton, Ricardo 
Cortez, Bebe Daniels, Marlon Davies, Bette Davis, 
the Dead End Kids, Olivia DeHavllland, Anne Dvorak, 
Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Glenda Farrell, Errol Flynn, 
Kay Francis, John Garfield, Ruby Keeler, Guy Klbbee, 
Winnie Llghtner, Ben Lyon, Dorothy Mackalll, Marian 
Marsh, Marilyn Killer, Jean Muir, Paul Muni, Olsen 
A Johnson, Dick Powell, William Powell, George Raft, 
Edward G. Robinson, Chic Sale, Otis Skinner, Barbara 
Stanwyck, Lee Tracy, Rudy Vallee, Victor Varconl, 
Warren William, Fay Wray, Loretta Young. 


Screenwriters 


Executives 


Harry B. Warner 
Albert Warner 
Jack Warner 
Darryl Zanuek 

1929-31 


1931-33 
Hal a. Wallis 
1928-31 



President 

Vice-President 4 Treasurer 
Vice-President In Charge of Production 

Executive Assistant to Jack Warner, 
Sunset Boulevard Studios 
Chief Executive In Charge of Production 

Executive Assistant to Jack Warner, 
Burbank Studios 
Associate Exeeutlve 

Chief Executive In Charge of Production 


Prominent writers at Warners In the early Thirties 
Included Kubec Glasmon * John Bright (Chicago Jour¬ 
nalists specializing In gangster subjects), Robert 
Lord, William K. Wells, Joseph Jackson, Wilson 
Mlzner, J. Grubb Alexander and Houston Branch. 

In the later Thirties the most prolific writers 
were Jerry Wald A Richard Macaulay, Vincent Sherman, 
George Brlcker, Robert Buckner, Crane Wilbur, Lee 
Katz, Warren Duff and Kenneth Garnet. Others of sign¬ 
ificance were John Huston, Robert Rossen, Seton I. 
Miller and Mark Helllnger. 


Cameramen 


Directors 

Years Indicate the period during which the director 
was under contract or working regularly at Warners. 

The figure In brackets gives the number of films he 
directed at Warners during the Thirties , l.e. In the 
years 1930-39 Inclusive.The more Important directors 
only are Included. The data may Include minor Inac¬ 
curacies. Dwan, Hawks, Walsh and Wyler are appended 
although they were not under extended contract during 
the Thirties. 


In the early Thirties the major Warners cameramen 
were Robert Kurrle, Dev Jennings, Ernest Haller, 

Tony Gaudlo, James Van Trees, Sol Pollto, Sid 
Hlckox and Ted McCord. Later In the decade, replacing 
Kurrle and Jennings, James Wong Howe, Arthur Edeson, 
Charles Rosher, Arthur L. Todd and L. W. O'Connell 
worked prominently at the studio. 


Producers 


John ADOLFI 
Lloyd BACON 
William BEAUDINE 
Busby BERKELEY 
Frank BORZAGE 
Howard BRETHERTON 
William CLEMENS 
Edward CLINE 
Alan CROSLAND 
Michael CURTIZ 
Roy DEL RUTH 
William DIETEHLE 
John Francis DILLON 
Ray ENRIGHT 
John FARROW 
Edmund GOULDING 
Alfred E. GREEN 
Nick GRINDE 
William KEIGHLEY 
Mervyn LE ROY 
Anatole LITVAK 
Frank LLOYD 
Archie MAYO 
Frank MC DONALD 
William MC GANN 
Lewis SEILER 
William SEITER 
Noel SMITH 
William WELLMAN 


1929-33 (11) 
1928-1*3 (4i) 

1928- 39 ( 8 ) 

1933- 39 (12) 

1934- 37 ( 6 ) 

1929- 34 (5 ) 
1933-44 (20) 

1930- 31 ( 4 ) 

1927- 35 ( 7 ) 

1926-53 (43) 

1926-34 (19) 

1931- 40 (23) 

1926-34 ( 7 ) 

1930-41 (34) 

1937-39 ( 8 ) 

1937-43 ( 6 ) 

1926-40 (28) 

1936- 37 ( 7 ) 

1933-42 (24) 

1928- 38 (31 ) 

1937- 41 (4 ) 

1929- 31 ( 3 ) 


1930-41 (26) 

1938-41 (8 ) 

1930-31 ( 6 ) 

1936-41 (12) 


Alan DWAN 
Howard HAWKS 
Raoul WALSH 
William WYLER 


1930-31 ( 2 ) 

1930-35 ( 4 ) 

1939-49 ( 1 ) 
1938 ( 1 ) 


Data concerning piuuucers is (surprisingly) difficult 
to find, since they were seldom credited. However, 
known to be working In this capacity were Hal Wallis 
(before he became Head of Production), Bryan Foy, 
Henry Blanks, Harry Joe Brown and Hark Helllnger. 


Art Directors 

Prominent art directors during the decade Included 
Anton Grot, Carl Jules Weyl, Kax Parker, Robert 
Haas, Hugh Retlcker, Esdras Hartley, Jack Okey and 
Stanley Fleischer. 


Under the direction of George Amy were many editors 
Including Owen /arks, Ralph Dawson, Thomas Pratt, 
James Gibbon, Clarence Roister, Jack Rllllfer, Tarry 
Horse, Frank Ware, Tommy Richards and william Holmes. 


3efore 1935 few films had original scores. Principal 
composers after then were Rax jtelner and Erich 
Wolfgang Korngold. Musical Director and conductor 
throughout the period was Leo F. Forbsteln. 


Special Effects 

Head of Special Effects was Fred Jackman. 


4 
















Introduction! The Cycles of Gangster Films 

The American gangster film saw Its rise with 
Joseph von Sternberg’s silent film, UNDERWORLD, In 
1927. Although there were earlier attempts to deal 
with the gangster, most notably Wallace Worsley's 
THE PENALTY (1921) with Lon Chaney and Clive Brook, 
most of these were either 111-concelved or naive or 
both. Of UNDERWORLD Its screen writer, Ben Hecht, 
wrote In his autobiography! 

An Idea came to me. The thing to do was to 
skip the heroes and heroines, to write a movie 
containing only villains and bawds. I would not 
have to tell any lies then...As a newspaperman I 
had learned that nice people--the audience—loved 
criminals, doted on reading about their love pro¬ 
blems as well as their sadism. My movie, grounded 
In simple truth, was produced with the title 
UNDERWORLD. It was the first gangster movie to 
bedazzle the movie fans and there were no lies In 
Vt—except for the half-dozen sentimental touches 
Introduced by Its director, Joe von Sternberg. (1) 
Whether the gangster film can escape heroes and 
heroines as Hecht suggests Is a question that will be 
dealt with later. Two things are particularly Inter¬ 
esting In these comments of Hecht's. One Is his 
statement about the "nice people" who ate up the 
violence on the screen, and the other Is the concern 
for realism, "no lies," that, we see, was concomitant 
with the birth of the first true gangster film. Both 
Issues we shall have to account for. 

In any case, UNDERWORLD Initiated the first great 
cycle of gangster films. UNDERWORLD was qulcklv fol¬ 
lowed by THE DRAGNET (192P). another von Sternberg 
film which attempted to "repeat the formula," as 
Richard Whitehall says; this In turn was followed by 
Lewis Milestone’s THE RACKET (1929) (2). The gang¬ 
ster film truly began to flourish when the movies 
beaan to talk. Sound allowed the distinctive, tough, 
slangy, argot-ridden dialogue of the gangster to be 
heard. We now hear about "molls," "mugs " "gats " 
"rods," "cannons" and the like—terras which fascinate 
[because of their parochialism and their local color 


More Importantly, perhaps, we hear the explosive 
rat-tat-tat-tat of the machine gun and a car's 
screeching wheels as It turns a corner to run someone 
down, or to allow Its riders to shoot down coppers, - 
cowards, and overly ambitious men who want too much 
too fast. It Is the realism of 30und that so much 
contributes to the outward realism of the movie (3). 

The first great series of gangster films Includes 
Mervyn LeRoy’s LITTLE CAESAR (193U. William Wellman’s 
PUBLIC ENEMY (1931). and Howard Hawks’s SCARPACE 
(1932). These three serve as the paradigm of what 
may be called the "classic" gangster film. By this 
Is meant a film which traces the rise and precipi¬ 
tous fall of the urban, often Immigrant gangster In¬ 
volved with heavy racketeering and bootlegging during 
the era of prohibition. Films of this sort are accom¬ 
panied by much violence, and It Is common to all of 
them that as many as a score of fellow gangsters and 
gang fighters—the police—are murdered by means of 
the pistol, the machine gun, and the bomb. In these 
films there Is a minimum of what may be considered 
extraneous material—almost every action and detail 
relate to the rise and fall pattern of the protago¬ 
nist. Although other films produced at this time 
share characteristics In common with these classic 
vangster films, they do not possess the same driving, 
relentless thrust of the rise and fall pattern, nor 
do they display the same degree of overt violence 
surrounding bootlegging and other rackets. Included 
in this group of films are Archie Mayo’s DOORWAY TO 
HELL (1930), Roy Del Ruth’s BLONDE CRA2Y (1931), and 
Ray Enright’s BLONDIE JOHNSON (1933). 

The first cycle of vangster films came to an end 
In about 1933- There are numerous reasons why the 
cycle ended at this time. First, gangster films had 
been bitterly attacked ever since they appeared on 
the cinematic scene. For example, much was made of 
the Incident In which Harold Gamble, a slxteen-year- 
old from East Orange, New Jersey, accidentally shot 
and killed his friend Winslow Eliot, twelve, after 
having seen a gang movie, THE SECRET SIX (4). The 
accident occurred In Winslow's play house that had 
?! en fyfflsbed to look like a speakeasy (5). Gang- O 
ittacked from all sides as being £ 


■ films were s 







/Iharmful to youth. The Gommonwenl Issue of June 10, 
Hl931, reported that the New York State chapter of the 
knights of Columbus passed a resolution stating that 
gangster films "create a criminal Instinct In our 
youth" (6). The Commonweal editorial goes on to state 
that "we all must realize that this does not put the 
matter too strongly..." (7). Hollywood tried to de¬ 
fend Itself, and such figures as Carl Laeramle, as re¬ 
ported by Walter B. Pitkin In Outlook (July 29. 1931). 
suggested that before critics ban gangster films they 
had better ban "crlme-flauntlng newspapers" as well 
(R), But the attacks mounted, and with the release 
of SCAHPACE they Increased In fervor and In number. 

Such groups as the American Legion, the Daughters of 
the American Revolution, the Knights of Columbus, the 
Catholic Church, and assorted community and big busi¬ 
ness groups spearheaded the drive (9). reacting par¬ 
ticularly against the depiction of the St. Valentine's 
Day massacre and the hospital murder of "Legs" 

Diamond (10). SCARPACE's reception In Britain was 
Just as hard, If not worse, and the Council of Cine¬ 
matograph Exhibition Association recommended that the 
film be returned to the censor for "further considera¬ 
tion because of Its morbidity and bloodshed," and the 
Manchester Watch Committee banned the film entirely 
(11). Richard Whitehall claims that one of the 
reasons why the anti-gangster film movement received 
so much support was not the fact that gangster films 
glorified crime and violence, but that It put the 
finger on official corruption, and that respected 
members of the community were often shown to be In 
league with the gangsters (12). 

There were other reasons as well for the decline 
of the gangster film. Lewis Jacobs cites the Lind¬ 
bergh baby kidnapping of March 1932 as contributing 
to public disillusionment with racketeers (13). The 
crime was at first attributed to organized gangsters. 
Other such incidents which outraged the public were 
the gang killing of Vincent Coll on Pebruary 7, 1932, 

In a drugstore In New York City, and the mllllon-dollar 
robbery j>f the Koch and Company real estate office In 
Chicago In September, 1932 (14). Purther, as America 
began to be outraged by criminal acts of violence. In 
_Lewls_Jacobs's words, they "became surfeited by the 
overproduction of gangster films..." (15). Moreover, 
on December 5, 1933. the Twenty-first Amendment was 
passed, ending almost fourteen years of Prohibition, 
and with this came the end of bootlegging and there¬ 
fore much of the visible and Immediate Instigation 
for gangster films. In 193^ the Legion of Decency 
was established, and with It mandatory sanctions for 
breeches of the Production Code (16). out of the 
Hays Office, and enforced by Joe Breen, came such 
dicta as, "No picture on the life and exploits of 
John Dllllnger will be produced, distributed or 
exhibited by any member...This decision Is based on 
the belief that the production, distribution or 
exhibition of such a picture could be detrimental to 
the best public Interest..." (17). As Jacobs notes, 
however, "Perhaps more Influential than any of these 
reasons for the decline of the gangster films was 
the deepening depression, which turned people's 
minds to political, economic, and social Issues 
more Important to their Immediate welfare’ (18). 
Gangster films are to a large extent allegories of 
the flushed, economically over-extended Twenties, 
and they present objective correlatives for the 
crash of 1929. They are, however, covert state¬ 
ments about the nature of a prosperous world and 
the fall, the crash, this world underwent. Most of 
the gangster films coming after 1930, they were ex¬ 
pressions of a need to examine and evaluate the 
reasons and conditions that led to the economic col¬ 
lapse that had undone so many. When the depression 
deepened and spread, however, the film artists turned 
to a more direct, overt examination of the very real 
and visible problems facing the country, problems 
of greater breadth and severity than exploitation by 
gang rule. The result was a turning away from the 
classic gangster film and films derived from It, and 
a turning toward films of more Immediate social 
relevancy. 

By 1935, however, Hollywood reaffirmed the Imp¬ 
ortance of gangster movies and a second cycle began. 
Responding to the attacks, the outrage, and the cri¬ 
ticism of earlier films, producers shifted their 
sights and focused not on the role of the gangster, 
but on the role of the crime fighter, the lnvestl- 

t gator. Nevertheless, present In these films were 
"the same Ingredients and the same quantity of 
violence..." (19). The cycle was Initiated by the 


Warners production of William Keighley's G-MEN in ***1 
1935, and Included such films as SHOW THEM NO MERCY I 
(1935). WHAT PRICE FAME (1935). THE PETRIFIED FOREST 
(1935). THE WRONG ROAD (1937). A SLIGHT CASE OP 
MURDER (1938). BROTHER ORCHID (1940) and IT ALL CAME 
TRUE (1940). In this cycle Edward Ludwig's THE 
LAST GANGSTER (193°) and Raoul Walsh's HIGH SIERRA 
(1941) are particularly significant In that they 
attempt to recapture some of the Important aspects 
of the classic gangster film which feature the gang¬ 
ster as hero. Richard Whitehall correctly notes 
that "Both deal...with the fall of the hero, the 
e-angster who has outlived his time and finds himself 
at odds both with his own kind and with society at 
large, the gangster who realizes he Is a misfit, 
doomed and ageing" (20). Significantly In HIGH 
SIERRA, Bogart's old gang leader tells him, "All 
the A-l guys are gone or In Alcatraz...all that's 
left are soda Jerks and Jitterbugs." An even later 
attempt to capture the old gangster film's motifs 
Is another of Walsh's films, WHITE HEAT (1949). For 
the moat part, however, the Forties saw the gangster 
film being replaced by tfie private eye and the war 
movie which "offered a new roster of heroes and vil¬ 
lains and even greater opportunities for patrioti¬ 
cally condoned violence" (21). The later development 
of the gangster film has been analyzed by Richard 
Whitehall and Philip French (22). There Is no space 
here to deal with It, but I would suggest that a 
consideration of the continuing historical develop¬ 
ment of the genre Is helpful in placing the films of 
the first cycle In perspective. 


Characteristics of the Gangster and His Gang , 

The glasslc.Gangster Film 

By far the most cogent examination and Interpre¬ 
tation of the gangster film and the character of the 
gangster has been made by Robert Warshow. His two 
articles, "The Gangster as Tragic Hero" and "The 
Westerner" (which compares the gangster and the West¬ 
erner) are the starting point for anyone seriously 
Interested In the genre. Although I do disagree 
with him on several points, I rely heavily on War- 
show's comments, as my footnotes Indicate. 

Warshow argues convincingly that the gangster 
and gangster films, particularly the classics, are 
highly stylized creations. 

The gangster film Is simply one example of 
the movies' constant tendency to create fixed 
dramatic patterns that can be repeated Indefi¬ 
nitely with a reasonable expectation of profit. 

One gangster film follows a noth er as one musical 
or one Western follows another. But this rigi¬ 
dity Is not necessarily opposed to the require¬ 
ments of art. There have been very successful 
types of art In the past which developed such 
specific and detailed conventions as almost to 
make individual examples of the type Interchange¬ 
able. This Is true, for example, of Elizabethan 
revenge tragedy and Restoration comedy. (23) 

Although this may be an over-slmpllflcatlon of the 
case, I think Warshow*s point holds true to a large 
measure, particularly for the films that are of our 
Immediate concern. Considering the stylized treat¬ 
ment of the gangster and the formulaic nature of 
many of the gangster films, I think we are Justified 
In drawing a general picture of the "mug" who Is our 
center of attention. 

The gangster, as represented In the films of the 
early Thirties, is a paradoxical figure for America. 

On the one hand he represents the worst that can be 
found In American society. On his own terms he Is 
an amorallst, a man not concerned with moral stand¬ 
ards, but whose actions are Immoral by society's 
standards. Instead of society's morals he has an 
overriding ambition for success that pushes him to 
extreme actions. He will not allow anything to 
stand In his way—duplicity and murder are his_means 
“of reaching the top. He 13 Involved with activities, 
particularly bootlegging, which are, to say the least, 
illegal. He is antl-soclali he disregards the laws 
of society, laws established ostensibly to maintain 
stability, fairness. Justice, and the pursuit of 
happiness. The gangster causes havoc and anarchy 
wherever he goes, even though his gang and the gene¬ 
ral mob structure Is orderly, hierarchical If not 
feudal. This anarchy Is r eflec ted In his world, the 
crowded and chaotic city whose chaos Is heightened 
by the noise of gunfire, screeching breaks, bombs, 
and the speakeasy. Typically, the gangster dls- 


6 







Iregards others In his pursuit of self, In fulfilling 
|hls role which gives him an Identity that he wants 
and needs. Ruthless, cold-blooded, even animalistic, 
he Is at times Irrational (particularly, as Warshow 

notes. In his brutality) If cunning and devious In 
his attempts at successful enterprise. 

If the gangster captures what is worst In Amer¬ 
ican society and In society In general, on the other 
hand he Incorporates much that Is associated with 
American Ideals. His very desire for success—money, 
power, fame, status, glory, fulfilment of self—has 
Its roots In the American Dream. (Warshow astutely 
points out that to a significant extent success for 
the gangster Is not "accomplishment or specific gain, 
but simply...the unlimited possibility of aggression." 
(24)). Indeed, as Philip Prench has put It, the 
gangster's struggle upwards Is a "grotesque parody 
of the Horatio Alger myth" (25). He Is a prime 
example of American rugged Individualism. But It 
Is an Individualism which Isolates the gangster. 
Although, as Warshow says, he Is never alone physi¬ 
cally (for It Is one or the conventions or the genre 
that It Is dangerous to be alone). In reality the 
gangster Is always alonei "...for success la always 
the establishment of an Individual pre-eminence that 
must be Imposed on others, In whom It automatically 
causes hatredt the successful man Is an outlaw" (26). 
The gangster Is cunning and shrewdi he makes the best 
of his undeveloped, uneducated Intelligence. As 
Lewis Jacobs notes, Spencer Tracy, the hero of QUICK 
MILLIONS (193D. "upholds the philosophy that the 
'smart guy' can get away with anything, and the more 
you steal, the more reputable you can become" (27), 

The gangster Is not easily dissuaded from his goal— 
he Is a fierce competitor whose peculiarity "Is his 
unceasing nervous activity," and whose “commitment to 
enterprise Is always clear* (28). Indeed, he Is a 
tycoon who. If "crude In conceiving his ends," Is 
"by no means Inarticulatei...he Is usually expansive 
and noisy..., and can state definitely what he wants. 

to own a hundred shirts, 
are 

ih, and 
, hardness. 


As Warshow perceptively suggests, In many ways the 
gangster "Is what we want to be and what we are afraid 
we may become" (30). orten we too would like to an¬ 
nihilate our opposition In business, love, polltlos, 
religion, etc. We too would like to assert our egos 
and blot out the limiting structures and values of 
our superegos. We too would like to unleash our 
power and make ourselves felt and known to others. 

The gangster's sadism and his death-dealing are the 
most powerful forms of making himself known. The 
viewer, however, fears the very power which he 
would like to use. He fears that If he were to 
succumb to hls wlld_lnner drives he may never come 
back to "himself," to hls stable world. The gang¬ 
ster, therefore, Is the man whom the viewer can 
Identify with on this primitivistic, primeval level. 

He Is the man whose actions the viewer can vicari¬ 
ously experience safely. 

In speaking about the notion of Identity and 
the gangster's need for It Warshow Incorrectly Im¬ 
plies that the gangster does not possess the charac¬ 
teristic of wanting to "state what he Is." In com¬ 
paring the gangster and the Westerner, Warshow says. 


When the gangster Is killed, hls whole life 
Is shown to have been a mistake, but the Image the E 
Westerner seeks to maintain can be presented as r 
clearly In defeat as In victory, he fights not 
for advantage and not for the jrlght, but to state 
what he Is, and he must live In a world which 
permits that statement (31)• 

This Implication misses the mark. One of the main 
concerns of the gangster Is hls attempt to define 
himself. In an existential sense, he defines himself 
by what he does—who and how many he bumps off, 
how he gains and keeps control of the North or South 
side, etc. Hls gangland actions are not only the 
source of hls being, they are hls raison d'Stre. 

LITTLE CAESAR, for example, opens with a shot of Rico 
(Edward G. Robinson) and hls friend, Joe, sitting In 
a cheap diner. In awe, Rico tells Joe of Diamond 
Pete Montana, and he tells Joe that he too wants to 
be "somebody." It Is not only wealth that Bloo Is 
after, It Is stature and Identity as well. The gang¬ 
ster also seeks to define himself by hls appearance 
and by the accoutrements of wealth. Usually coming 
from a poor. Immigrant background, the classic gang¬ 
ster seeks to change what he has been, to become 
someone else. He buys fancy clothes. Bloo dons a 
monkey sulti Tom Powers (James Cagney) and hls friend, 
Matt, are measured up by the tailor when they get 
their first big money from a "Job" in PUBLIC ENBMYi 
and In a scene which recalls Gatsby's attempt to Im¬ 
press Daisy In Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsbv . Tony 
Camonte (Paul Muni) of SCABFACE tries to Impress and 
win over Poppy by showing her hls new shirts—"one 
for every day." He acquires a fancy car (as Ca- 
monte's bullet-proof Job), or fancy furnishings (Bloo 
furnishes hls house In "high style'i he Is even more 
Impressed by the Big Boy's house, and likewise Camon- 
te's apartment Is, as Poppy says, "gaudy"). Simi¬ 
larly, all the gangsters pay oareful attention to 
their personal appearance In general, e.g. Bloo con¬ 
tinuously combs hls hair, and at one point hls pose 
before a mirror Is decidedly effeminate. (The novel 
makes the point succinctly. "Blco was a simple man. 

He loved but three things, himself, hls hair and 
hls gun. He took excellent care of all three" (32)). 

The gangster has a preconception of what It means 
to be a man—toughness, hardness, fearlessness—and 
he continually attempts to prove himself worthy to be 
called a man, to exist. Tony, the driver In LITTLE 
CAESAR, turns yellow, and he Is told to be a man. 

Weak, frightened, alone, Tony Is shot down on the 
church steps by Rico's men. If one Is not a "man," 
one loses one's right to be. Moreover, as noted psy¬ 
chiatrist R. D. Lalng has written, "the sense of 
Identity requires the existence of another by whom 
one Is known" (33), and this holds true for all of us, 
gangsters Included. If existentially alone and Iso¬ 
lated, the gangster has at least hls gang and one 
or two friends and/or lovers who help to give him an 
Identity. Although Inwardly a loner, an Individual¬ 
ist of the first order, the gangster Is Involved with 
a collective—hls gang. Hls gang helps to define hls 
role—they respect hls fearlessness, hls toughness, 
and hls readiness to use hls "gat." The gangster 
demands loyalty and frequently he gets It, e.g. Otero, 
Rico's bodyguard, sticks by him until he himself gets 
Iti Angelo (Vince Barnett), Camonte's secretary and 
sidekick—he Is a funny character—Is beside him 
until hls own death, and Tom Powers repays the horse 
that threw and killed "Nalls" Nathan by buying It 
and shooting It. However, more often the gang leader 
keeps the gang together by means of the bond of fear. 
To deviate from the boss's wishes may mean death, to 
cross him means certain death. The boss must main¬ 
tain himself at all costs, and to do so means keep¬ 
ing hls gang Intact and forcing hls men to accept 
hls view of reality. He knows that he must be tough 
with deviants, for In the past he himself has risen 
by overthrowing hls boss, e.g. Blco overthrew Vet- 
tori and Tony bumped off Costlllo and ousted Johnny 
Lovo. The chief's underling must abide with him In 
a tight unit, for outside the group lie the In-laws 
(the police, Judges, the "decent" citizen, society) 
and fellow Out-laws (rival gangs) all waiting for the 
least sign of dissolution. Although the gang Is uni¬ 
fied under the common goal of self-interest, the 
leader knows that there must be more than self- 
interest. he requires the allegiance of the group 
In order to maintain hls personal security. Pear 
Is the surest way of obtaining that allegiance. 

It was mentioned above that the gangster poa - E 




sesses a readiness to use his "gat." The "gat" 

Is a significant object for the gangster. It sym¬ 
bolizes his lawlessness, his violence, hlB power. 

The Vat" Is an extension of the gangster’s self— 

It Is his means of enforcing Tils rules and fulfil¬ 
ling his ambitions, desires and drives. The fre¬ 
quency with which the gun (often the machine gun— 
the "chopper"—as In SCARFACE) Is used suggests Its 
Importance. It Is the gangster's way of malting 
himself felt In the world, of affecting, by kil¬ 
ling or Intimidation, others. Frequently It Is 
his way of expressing himself. Angelo of SCARFACE, 
who has a long series of trials and tribulations 
with the telephone, at one point angered by someone 
speaking to him over the phone, pulls out his gun to 
shoot the phone and hence the man. Freudian Impli¬ 
cations readily suggest themselves In relation to 
the power of the gun for the gangster. The gun Is 
a symbol of his manhood, of his sexuality as man. 

His aggressiveness by his use of the gun, as well as 
the aggressiveness of his general £lan (reckoned 



through his speech, gestures, appearance, etc.) may 
very well stem from a confused sexuality, and I 
think this point Is explicitly raised In some of the 
films of the period. 

In SCARFACE. for example. It Is quite clear that 
Tony has Incestuous Impulses towards his sister, 

Cesca (Ann Dvorak). At one point Tony makes a fuss 
over a man kissing her. It Is clear even to her 
that Tony Is Jealous, and she says, "Sometimes you 
act...". She doesn't fill In the blank, but we 
would not be too far off the mark If we continued 
"like my lover." At another point their mother says 
to Cesca, "Tony doesn't love you—to him you're Just 
another girl." If Cesca's mother Is not totally aware 
of what she Is saying the audience certainly Is. Al¬ 
though Tony Is also after Poppy, the viewer defi¬ 
nitely sense his desires toward his sister. Toward 
the end of the film Tony rushes In on Cesca and a 
man In the apartment that the two are sharing. The 
man turns out to be Tony's right-hand man, Gulno 
hlnaldoi Tony shoots him. nevertheless. It Is only 
later when Cesca comes to_kill her brother that Tony 
discovers, to his horror, that the two were married. 
Simultaneously, the police begin closing in and An¬ 
gelo Is shot. Robin Wood has said that when Tony 
says "I didn't know, I didn't know," he may be refer¬ 
ring "simply to the dead secretary—Tony hadn't rea- 
to the realization of his 


X 


own Involvement with Cesca..." (3 1 *). Although both r 
realizations may occur at the same time, Wood says ltr 
Is the second which causes Tony to lose his "essen- w 
tlal Innocence," his lack of awareness (35). In any 
case, Cesca doesn't kill Tonyi Instead, she Joins 
him In shooting It out with the cops. Symbolically, 
shooting It out with all the accompanying violence, 
emotion, and activity may be a replacement for sexual 
union. However, even this union Is not permittedi 
Cesca Is killed before she gets off a shot. Having 
lost his "essential Innocence," having lost his be¬ 
loved sister Tony's world collapsesi with that col¬ 
lapse Tony Is eliminated. 

Another film In which "deviant" sexuality plays 
a role, although not as overtly as In SCARFACE, Is 
LITTLE CAESAR, In which there are homosexual ele¬ 
ments. Rico's very close friend Joe (Douglas Pair- 
banks Jr.) takes up dancing as a career. In his 
rough-tough way Rico tells Joe, "Dancing ain't 
my Idea of a man's Job. Joe you're getting to be a 
sissy." Although this may sound the opposite of 
homosexuality on Rico's part, what Rico Is doing Is 
trying to win back his friend, to whom he Is greatly 
attached. Rico tells Joe to get rid of women, par¬ 
ticularly his dancing partner. If Joe goes back to 
dancing "It's suicide for both of ya." Rico acts 
like a Jealous, rejected lover. When Rico feels that 
Joe has gone back on him he goes to shoot him. But 
he can't. Rico has gone "soft" (the term Itself Is 
sexually suggestive), and he says, "This Is what I 
get for liking a guy too much." In an article on 
Edward G. Robinson, Allen Eyles says of this scene, 
"Robinson responds with a convincing display of 
anguished hesitation but Its origins remain obscure 
(perhaps a deep-seated homosexual attachment?)" (36). 

I would suggest that this Is more than "perhaps" such 
an attachment, although I would grant that this homo¬ 
sexuality may be purely latenti Rico may not be a 
practising homosexual. There are other scenes In 
the film which suggest Rico's homosexual tendencies. 
The relationship between Rico and his henchman Otero 
Is foggy, but It Is clear that they are very close. 
Otero looks up to Rleoi he Is In awe of him. In 
one scene Otero and Rico are suggestively lying on 
a bedi when Otero Is wounded Rico supports him and 
they are posed cheek to cheek. I don't mean to 
push these scenes all out of proportion, but I do 
think there are enough hints to support the notion 
of at least a latent homosexuality In this, one of 
the first gangster films. Further, I think that this 
latent homosexuality may be found In many of the 
classic gangster films, and I think that In most 
cases the directors Intended us to draw such con¬ 
clusions. There Is something about the proximity, 
the Intimacy, and the violence of these gangsters 
who try to prove themselves as men which lends It¬ 
self to such an Interpretation. 

Somewhat related to this homosexual tendency Is 
an hostility to women manifested In manv of the films 
Rico's attitude towards Joe's girlfriend Is cleari 
getting Involved with women Is distasteful. Indeed 
reprehensible to him. Although Tom Powers Is some¬ 
what the ladles' man In PUBLIC ENEMY, one_of the most 
hostile act3 towards a woman Is portrayed In It, and 
that, of course. Is the famous grapefruit scene. 



Tom, irritable and angry, takes half a grapefruit 
from the breakfast table and pushes It In the face o' 
his girlfriend Kitty (Mae Clarke). As Lincoln Klr- 
steln has said, the scene "delights and shocks us 
because It Is based on the reverse of chivalry" (37) 
Instead of courtesy and deference we have disrespect 
and open hostility. In another scene from the same 
movie Tom, waking up after a drunk. Is brought coffe 
by a "moll." She Intimates that they had sexual 




P it Ions the previous night. Tom's reaction Is not 
: of a pleased and/or satisfied male, but that 
oi a man disgusted. If not horrified by the very Idea 
(he doesn't remember a thing). 

Although Rico's and Tom's actions are extreme, 
there exists In many gangster films this same kind 
of hostility. Most frequently It Is simply an atti¬ 
tude held by gangsters that women, or at least the 
women they can get, are whores. They are treated 
as such. There Is little or no fondness for them 
or gentleness toward them. Being a gangster seems 
to preclude this kind of behavior. 

There are two classes of women who appear to 
escape this kind of treatment. First, those who are 
sophisticated (e.g. Gwen—Jean Harlow—of PUBLIC 
ENEMY) and those who are the Big Pellow's girl, 
whom the upcoming gangster often wants for his own. 
The other class Is mothers. The mothers are a 
special case. In PUBLIC ENEMY, for example, Tom 
Powers Is babied by his mother. Tom likes this, 
needs this. References to his mother abound, and 
there Is at least one scene In which Tom has his 
head on his mother's lap. In Richard Whitehall's 
words, this treatment by his mother and his response 
to It are "of course, an accurate releetlon of the 
mother-fixation to which so many gangsters have been 
prone" (38). whether or not gangsters In general 
are subject to mother-fixations Is not at Issue here. 
What does matter Is that t here Is a very noticeable 
mother-fixation In PUBLIC ENEMY, one of the 


Tom with Gwen (Jean Harlow) 


particularly Gwen and the "broad" who tried to sug¬ 
gest that they had sex when Tom was drunk. Tom's 
coddling by his mother and mother-surrogates Is 
countered In one scene from his youth when his father, 
a policeman, having found him doing something WTong 
beats him. The father—authority, law, morality—is 
that which Tom opposes 1 It Is why he seeks his mother- 
softness, security, approval. In LITTLE CAESAR, simi¬ 
larly, there Is a significant scene between the 
driver Tony and his motheri and the mother In SCAR- 
FACE Is also prominent. Although I shall not attempt 
here to give a full psychological accounting for 
the gangster's need for his mother, I do think It 
may enlighten some features of his difficulty In 
getting along In the world. That Is, he Is pictured 
as being torn between his desire to prove himself as 
a man and his need to stick close to his mother's 
apron strings 1 the tension produced Is perhaps the 
source of much of his confusion and hostility. 

One characteristic common to all the main char¬ 
acters of our three gangster classics Is that they 
feel little or no oontrltion when they meet their 
Inevitable ends at the bottom of the arc of their 
careers. When Rico, an archetype of pure, godless 
criminality, Is shot at the end of LITTLE CAESAR, 
he asks with Incredulity, "Mother of Mercy, Is this 
the end of Rico?" Robert Warshow says that Rico 
speaks of himself In the third person "because what 
has been brought low Is not the undifferentiated man , 
but the Individual with a name, the gangster, the 
success] even to himself he Is a creature nr the 
imagination" (39). In any case, Rico feels no re¬ 
morse 1 rather, he manifests astonishment. Although 
toward the end of PUBLIC ENEMY Tom and his family, 
-especially his brother, are reconciled, nevertheless 
H here too there Is little feeling of contrition. At 
^£he end of the film Tom Is left standing, bound like 



life I we are not privileged to see If he broke and 
asked forgiveness for his crimes. Omitting this 
scene Itself suggests that If he died violently he 
did not yield In his basic beliefs and principles. 
Similarly, SCARPACE ends with a shower of gunfire. 
Tony may feel some sorrow at having killed Cesca's 
husband, but It Is more likely that he simply rea¬ 
lizes some of his feelings towards Cesoa, feelings 
that perhaps had previously been unconscious. Tony 
affirms what he has been by shooting It out with 
the pollcei he chooses to die (heroically In his 
terms) rather than give up or admit that he had been 
wrong. Moreover, as Warshow remarks, the end of the 
gangster If "presented usually as 'punishment,' Is 
perceived simply as defeat" (40). The gangster has 
simply lost the game. He has played by the rules 1 he 
does not feel that he has done anything wrong. Life 
Is hard and brutal for him, and he In turn has to 
be hard and brutali It's Just the way things are. 
Warshow has written 1 

It Is true that the gangster's story Is also a 
tragedy...but It Is a romantic tragedy, based 
on a hero whose defeat springs with almost me¬ 
chanical Inevitability from the outrageous presump¬ 
tion of his demands! the gangster Is bound to go 
on until he Is killed (41). 

There are a few other characteristics of the gang¬ 
ster which I should like briefly to Illustrate. He 
Is disrespectful of the lawi the Image of Tony Camon- 
te striking a match on a policeman's badge epitomizes 
this. Further, his Ignorance of the law Is shown, 
for example, by Camonte's calling a writ of habeas 
corpus a writ of "hocus poous." The gangster, a 
creature of chaos, living In the anarchy of the city. 
Is fearful of chaos. It Is for this reason that 
his rules must not be brokeni order must be main¬ 
tained. Hence Rico, Tom and Camonte coerce their 
followers—they must be obeyed. With good reason 
gangsters fear for their lives and they seek the 
maximum protection—Tony's bullet-proof oar and his 
bullet-proof headquarters and the bodyguards that all 
the gangsters have are Indicative of this. 

The gangsters themselves are only part of the sig¬ 
nificance of the gangster film of the early Thirties. 
What follows Is an analysis of the gangster film as 
a whole with particular emphasis on the relation of 
such films to the times In which they appeared. 


^Reality!* History!^ and 


Essentially three levels of reality manifest them¬ 
selves In the gangster fllmi the timely, almost natu¬ 
ralistic level, a mythic level of timelessness, and 
an allegorical level that relates to the age It de¬ 
picts. 

The first level has Its roots In historical and 
psychological realism. This realism Includes an 
accurate representation of the settings, the dress, 
and the accoutrements of the Jazz Agei speakeasies, 
double-breasted suits, vintage 1925 autos, machine 
guns, etc. The films we have bean_dlscuss1.8°-,.ocrtrsv 
tnelr own times and the decade that preceded themi 
■"here Is, therefore, not the same kind of historical 
concern as we find In a film like BONNIE AND CLYDE 
made thirty years later. Neverthless, the gangster — 
films of the Thirties do try to paint an authentic P 
picture of the world the gangster Inhabits, We seeI) 





...s Prohibition era, the era of the Volstead Act. 

Even If the film makes no explicit reference to Pro¬ 
hibition, the audience knows It Is there. In PUBLIC 
ENEMY there le no question of our not knowing Prohib¬ 
ition Is In effect. When Tom's brother, Mike, re¬ 
turns with all his medals from the war, Tom and his 
mother greet him with a homecoming meal. On the 
table sits a keg of beer, a keg which symbolizes 
Tom's Illegal activity, and which because of Its 
size obscures everyone's view. PUBLIC ENEMY, more¬ 
over, uses titles to Indicate the years from 1909 to 
1920, the years of Tom's development from youth to 
adulthood, from petty theft to murder and the rackets. 

Since most of the films of the first gangster 
cycle are set In the Twenties, prior to the 1929 
Crash, there are few direct references to the De¬ 
pression, but BLONDIE JOHNSON (1933) provides an 
exception to this. It opens with Blondle going to 
the Welfare Association seeking financial help for 
her mother and herself. She Is told by the petty 
bureaucrat that there are hundreds of people who 
are worse off than herself 1 at least she has a roof. 

By 1933t as this Indicates, the American cinema 
(and especially the segment of It produced by Warners) 
was turning a sharper eye towards the Depression and 
the social problems raised by It, and I have suggested 
_that this trend Is accompanied by the decline of the 
first gangster cycle. The classics of the genre, 
then, avoided a strictly contemporary realism, but 
were meticulously accurate In their depiction of 
the Twenties gangster era. 

Thus Richard Whitehall Informs us that the scene 
In PUBLIC ENEMY In which Tom buys and shoots the 
horse that killed -Nalls" Nathan Is based on a real 
event. Samuel "Nalls* Morton was actually killed In 
this manner and the horse that did It was rubbed out 
by his gang (92). Similarly, the famous grapefruit 
sequence of the same movie supposedly was drawn from 
the Incident In which Hymle Weiss hit his girlfriend 
In the face with an omelette (93). SCARFACE, based 
on the career of A1 Capone, makes reference to the 
killing of "Diamond Joe" Costlllo, the St. Valen¬ 
tine's Day massacre, and the hospital killing of 
"Legs" Diamond (99). 

In a broader sense, the gangster movies located 
the motivation of their protagonists not In the 
melodramatic urges of the silent films (a weakness 
to whloh even the naturalistic GREED was prone), but 
In the very real materialistic Impulses of contempo¬ 
rary American man. Jacobs concludes that the gangster 
films were a repudiation of the "Cinderella romance 
and the DeMille sex fantasies" (95). They seek the 
real world of real people and they show us the methods 
of such people. 

m ^^" 0t, J er -l ndloatlon of the timeliness of these 
"°T. le8 i s th8 attempt of the films to point out the 
evils of crime as they exist In real society. The 
rums try for social relevance. SCARFACE opens with 
a moralizing prefaoe about "the Intention of the pro- 
• It ? ays ’ "This Is an Indictment against gang 
rule In America and the careless Indifference of the 
government... What are you going to do about It?" 

In the film Itself there appears a scene somewhat 
separate from the rest of the film In which a news¬ 
paper editor tries to answer the objections of citi¬ 
zens who have attacked his newspaper for playing up 
the gangsters. In the scene, which was added by 
another director (96), the editor defends himself 
by saying that he Is not trying to glorify the gang- 
. !!S,' ra * her, J?? 18 atte “Ptlng. he says, to bring the 
l problem to public consciousness. He proclaims that 
^the citizenry must see that the laws are enforced. 


He tells them that the American Legion Is ready tol 
help and that they should secure help from the Army ^ 
If need be. The scene, which Robin Wood says was 
added probably "as a safeguard against censorship," 

Is another attempt to point out the direct relevance 
of the movie. Likewise, PUBLIC ENEMY opens with a 
statement that the film Is meant "not to glorify but 
to depict an environment," and at the end, the film 
suggests that the public must bear the responsibility 
of ridding society of both the criminals and the 
conditions that gave rise to them. (There Is overt 
criticism of the gangs In Wellman's second 1931 film 
In the genre, STAR WITNESS.) 

Still another aspect of this first level of rea¬ 
lism Is the psychological orientation of some of 
the films discussed earlier. Part of the task of the 
directors of LITTLE CAESAR, PUBLIC ENEMY and SCARFACE 
was to create viable depictions of gangsters, and to 
do this meant showing their unstable natures and 
their "hang-ups," particularly sexual. Although 
these directors frequently over-exaggerate, they do 
go beyond simple stereotypes and caricatures, and 
this Is a significant step toward realism. 

If the gangster film Is rooted In this kind of 
realism there Is also a level In which timeliness and 
authenticity play no part. That 13, there Is a level 
of reality which does not have Its source In the quo¬ 
tidian. On this level of reality the gangster flg- 
ures not merely as a gun-totlng heavy, but as a 
mythic figure who looms larger than life. He becomes 
a modern, If distorted. Image of the warrlor-chlef. 

He attains the stature of the powerful and brutal 
man par excellence. His actions become ritualized) 
we have a host of expectations about him which we 
expect to be fulfilled. The scene In which the 
newly successful gangster fits himself up with a 
new suit of clothes Is one such ritual convention 
The gangster steps out of history. He becomes a 
iQ™= eS iL flBUre ' a aan , not locked Into the 1920s or 
■1” 38, 1 ha -P° 88 « 1868 universal 1 ty. The gangster fn, 
appeals to previous experience of the type Itself, 

It creates Its own field of reference" (9-7). The 
gangster film, therefore, acquires an ambiguity. It 
Is both timely and timeless at the same tile, 
rnl her ! 18 8180 a " alle e° rlca l l®v«l to the gangster 
film. As was mentioned earlier, the gangster film 
typically traces the arc of the gangster's career. 

The gangster moves from the ranks of petty enforcer, 
messenger and flunky to the heights of prominence. 
Eventually he peaks and starts downwards—rival gang 
leaders get out a contract on him or the police close 
In. Little Caesar Is shot by the police as Is Scar- 
face. Tom Powers Is murdered by rivals, Bert of 
BLONDE CRAZY Is arrested for theft, and both Blon¬ 
dle and Danny of BLONDIE JOHNSON are convicted and 
given prison terms. These films portray people out 
for themselves, who are not concerned for the Inte¬ 
rest of the community, they seek money, power, status 
etc. and they don't care how they get It. In this 
respect gangster films are allegories of the Twen¬ 
ties. The gangster's recklessness and carelessness 
represent the conditions and attitudes that led to 
the Great Crash of 1929. The gangster captures both 
the self-interest of the small man who wanted a quick 
buck and the big dreams of the speculators and stock¬ 
brokers who fostered the economic over-extension 
which contributed to the collapse. Affluence, waste 
and decadence are evident throughout the gangster's 
world, and that world Is a fit representation of 
the Indifference, wildness, and madness of the 
Roaring Twenties as a whole, in these rilms wealth 
becomes a measure of the man. It Is these material¬ 
istic values that led to economic debauchery. 

Although this allegory Is present In the classic 
gangster film of the early Thirties, It Is most 
explicitly seen In BLONDE CRAZY (1931). The plot 
deals with the developing relationship of two con 
experts, Bert Harris and Ann Roberts. Throughout th< 
film there are numerous Instances of the two setting 
up and conning people out of their money. Bert 
punnnlngly refers to the times as the "Age of Chlsel- 
ry." Unlike the classic gangsters these two use 
their brains more than their brawn. Everyone In the 
film Is Interested In money Including a big confi¬ 
dence man who chisels five thousand dollars from 
Bert. This con man Is dressed as a traditional 
capital. 1st—top hat and all— and he Informs Bert 
that money gets money." If this con man Is a repre¬ 
sentation of the crooked capitalist who steals other 
people s money, there Is also a full-fledged capl- 
I tallst who does the same thing— Joe, Ann's fiance. 



ar\ o 

qis a stockbroker who has embezzled money from 
<j the accounts of others. Bert offers to help Joe 
(for Bert Is himself In love with Ann and he wishes 
to help Ann) by staging a robbery to cover up the 
embezzlement. However, Joe, the well-educated, 
sophisticated stockbroker Is truly despicable. He 
Informs the police of the robbery and Bert Is 
caught. In this film the capitalist, In the guise 
of both the expert con man and Joe, Is the villain. 
Both are criminals, but Joe Is less palatable than 
his counterpart. It Is such men and their values 
that brought about the Crashi the allegory Is ex_ 
pllclt. 

the gangster film, as the above would suggest, 
draws a picture of an age. It shows us the Twenties, 
the Jazz Age, an age reacting against World War I, 
a war that jeople_began to feel had been waged un¬ 
necessarily. It shows us the hysteria of the period. 
Even more significantly. It says something about 
the feelings and the mood of the time It was made. 
Citing Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West , Henry 
Seidel Canby in 1937 wrotei 

...all the works of art In a given period mani¬ 
fest the definite quality, the ruling passion, 

. _of that period, no matter how different In other 
respects these crystallizations of the contem¬ 
porary Intel lect may seem to be (48). 

Canby goes on to draw some conclusions about what 
literature shows to be the prevailing current of 
the Thirties. Some of his conclusions can, I think, 
be applied to the gangster movie as well. Canby 
says that the most pervasive feeling of literature 
In the Thirties Is feari 

...although fear Is too strong a word for Its 
quiet margins, and panic would better describe 
some of Its hurrying tides. This fear Is some¬ 
times conscious, sometimes subconscious. It 
ranges from a skeptical Inquiry Into the possible 
disintegration of culture as we have known It, 
to the deep pessimism of convinced alarm. Some¬ 
times a writer Is Inspired by what he may call 
the decline of capitalism. Sometimes the under¬ 
lying fear Is of war. Sometimes, and very common¬ 
ly, the writer Is concerned with the revival of 
the brutality of more desperate ages. Sometimes 
the unrest...Is a reflection of the author's be¬ 
lief that democracy Is bankrupti sometimes Jubi¬ 
lantly or fearfully he halls the rise of the pro¬ 
letariat, or the reappearance of the strong arm 
and submission to the state. More subtle Is what 
has been recently called the flight from reason 
toward pure emotionalism, where men are encouraged 
to exchimge their liberties for the Joys of being 
the most powerful of animals...Any of these fears, 
skepticisms, distrusts may be Justified or un¬ 
justified. The fear remains (49). 

Some of the specifics here can be applied to the 
gangster film. We see a fear of animalism and bru¬ 
tality and a fear of anarchy and of an atrophying 
culture. Gangsters and their Impulses must, we 
are told, be wiped out, for If they are not an 
already threatened society may crumble. The gang¬ 
ster spreads disunity] he sucks at society at the 
time when society needs to band together. These 
films were made at the start of the Depression, and 
the message for the Depression Is clear. 

Perhaps It Is stretching the point, but the 
gangster films of the Thirties may suggest the 
threat that the Big Fellows of Europe were raising 
at the time. In the Thirties Hitler and Mussolini 
were orten depicted as thugs. They shared the same 
drives as the gangster, and as such they had to be 
feared and resisted. The Portles would see a turn¬ 
ing away from gangster films toward a more direct 
representation of the fight against the common enemy. 
The villains are no longer gangsters but the soldiers 
and leaders of the Axis powers. 

The nature of the times also helps to explain the 
popularity of the gangster films. In an age of eco¬ 
nomic depression and labor organizing the gangster's 
hostility toward society and his use of force to gain 
what he wanted may have found favor with the poor and 
others who had been hit hard. Further, the audience 
may have empathized with the little man's rise to 
power. As Richard Whitehall has said, In some cases 
the audience may have seen In the gangsters, particu¬ 
larly the bank robbers of the mld-Thlrtles. an Im¬ 
pulse toward -the redistribution^ wealth—Jewel 
_ thieves still have something of the same romantic 
J aura—It may not be quite Robin Hood, but It's along 
Sthe same lines" (50). At the same time, the audience 


may have reacted strongly against the gangster, for, (8 
as we have seen, he possessed the same selfish drives £ 
of the capitalists who had gotten the nation Into 
the mess of depression. The actual war between gangs 
could easily be translated Into economic war between 
corporations. Even If the audience disapproved of 
the gangster It was Interested In him, and the movie 
houses were filled. Audiences consistently found 
something appealing about the gangster film, some¬ 
thing which after all Is said and done still remains 
much of a mystery. 


Conclusion 

Although the gangster film bears some similarity 
to other genres, particularly the Western, It Is 
unique. It possesses Its own character types. Its 
own language and settings, and Its own themes. Enter¬ 
ing the cinematic scene with UNDERWORLD In 1927, the 
genre Inaugurated a new era of realism for the movies. 
Uniquely, It offered an almost naturalistic picture 
of the lower depths of society—the outlaws. Its 
concern was with them. "Normal" people were not of 
primary Importance, and If they appeared It was most 
often as fixtures, dupes, Innocent bystanders, or 
crime fighters. At the same time the gangster film 
both condemns the gangster and sets him up as a man 
who possesses at least a modicum of heroic stature. 

He Is, as we have seen, a paradoxical figure, and the 
films that feature him frequently possess some degree 
of ambiguity. He Is noxious to society, yet he Is a 
human being with a psychology of his own. Sometimes 
he reduces himself to the level of an animal acting 
lnatlnctually and brutally. At other times he ex¬ 
hibits love and other delicate emotions. He fre¬ 
quently possesses a good sense of humor. 

The films that treat him vacillate between being 
mediocre sociological documents and high artistic 
achievements. Gangster films have always had the 
potential for great art. Their subject matter Is 
rich with possibility. Sometimes they reach this 
high level and Hawks's SCARFACE Is a good example, 
the culminating achievement of the first and clas¬ 
sic cycle of gangster movies. 


Pootnotes 

1. Quoted In Philip Prench, "Incitement Against 
Violence," Sight and Sound Winter 1967-68 p.3. 

2. Richard Whitehall, " Crime Inc .. Part Onei The 

rackets and the mobs." Films and Filming January 
1964 p.8. - 

3. This point Is noted byi French, op.clt. 1 Whitehall, 
op.clt. i Richard Griffith and Arthur Mayer, The 
Movies , New Yorki Bonanza Books, n.d. p.269. 

4. "Gangster Movies and Children," Christian 
Century August 12, 1931 p.1015. 

5. Walter B. Pitkin, "Screen Crime vs. Press crime - 
Outlook July 29 L 1931 p.398. 

6. "Gang Films," Commonweal June 10, 1931 p.l43. 

7. Ibid. 

8. Whitehall, op.clt . p.10. 

Ibid , p.ll. 


10 . 

11 . 


Ibid. 

Griffith and Mayer, op.clt . p.272. 
Whitehall, op.clt . p.ll. 

Le wis Jaco bs. The Rise of the Aaarl 


story. New Yorki Teachers College, 


1969, p7$l 3 . 

14. Ibid . 

15. IHff . 

16. French, op.clt . p.3. 

17. Ibid , p.4. 

18. Jacobs, op.clt . 

19. Prench, op.clt . 

20. Whitehall, " Crime Inc .. Part Twoi G-Men and 
Gangsters," Films and Filming February 1964 p.18. 

21. French, op.clt .p.4. 

22. Whitehall, " Crime Inc .. Part Threei Public 
Enemies," Films and Filming March 1964. and French, 

2 3? P * Robert 
The Imn 
, P.I29” 

24. Ibid . ] 

25. French, 















HAWKS AT WARNER 

1932 


BROTHERS: 


BY GERALD PEARY 

AND STEPHEN GROARK 


THE NEGLECT of 1932's THE CROWD ROARS by even the 
most Impassioned defenders of Howard Hawks Is rather 
understandable. Aside from Its almost complete un¬ 
availability (and It Is hard to champion a film one 
hasn't seen), THE CROWD ROARS proves to be an Inevi¬ 
table aesthetic disappointment for those who have 
viewed it. It Is simply no match against the bril¬ 
liance of SCARPACE, released earlier In 1932, In 
either the excitement of the action or the richness 
of the characterization. And for those additionally 
familiar with Hawks's third release of 1932, the ex¬ 
cellent TIGER SHARK, It Is manifestly clear that 
THE CROWD ROARS Is the director's weakest picture 
In a year In which Howard Hawks emerges, for auteurlst 
and non-auteurlst critics alike, as a major American 
film artist. 

Furthermore, THE CROWD ROARS seems at first not 
even particularly valuable for those Interested In 
the thematic development of Hawks. A cursory look 
at the movie bears out the Idea of a rather Impersonal 
film about race car driving, a typical 1932 entry at 
Warner Brothers In the year that all the studios 
made films about "exciting" modern professions (news¬ 
paper reporting, Jungle exploration, taxicab driving, 
etc.) In order to compensate for the ban of the Hays 
office on the glamorizing of gangsters, the major sub¬ 
ject matter of films In 1931. (Hawks's SCARPACE was 
actually completed In 1931. held up by the censors 
for revision, but cynically released by Howard Hughes 
In 1932 during the month that the Lindbergh baby was 
missing.) 

The temptation Is to dismiss THE CROWD ROARS and 
to move ahead Instantly to the more Immediately 
engaging TIGER SHARK. But this desire must be resis¬ 
ted when one recalls that not only was Hawks himself 
a racing driver and race car designer but also that 
he returned thirty-two years later for his subject 
matter to the racing profession In 1965's RED LINE 
7000. These' facts are the first clues that THE CROWD 
ROARS Is probably of more significance to Hawks than 
It appears at first glance. 

One looks at THE CROWD ROARS again, and then again. 
And not too surprisingly the facade of Impersonality 
vanishes to reveal a film which, If not objectively 
a major film accomplishment, still tells us a great 
deal about the concerns of Howard Hawks and leads us 
to further re-examinatlon. 

There Is an Interesting, rather frightening sequence 
which begins the film, before the title appears. Race 
cars speed around the track, faster and faster. Sud¬ 
denly one car explodes Into flame and breaks Into 
pieces all over the track. There Is a quick cut to 
the grandstand as the crowd leaps up In excitement 
and screams. On comes the title over the shot. 

THE CROWD ROARS. 

On several occasions later In the film there Is 
virtually the same scene repeated, but In these cases 
the Impersonal sequence In long-shot which began the 
movie Is substituted with a crash Involving the major 
characters of the story. In the first such Instance, 

Joe and Eddie Greer (James Cagney and Eric Linden), 
brother racing drivers In competition, fly off the 
track at the sane time Into a haystack. The crowd 
leaps to Its feet and roars. The Greer brothers are 
unhurt. But In the second Instance a racer named 
Dpud (Frank McHugh), Joe's auxiliary driver and best 
friend, crashes Into a wall and Is killed Instantly, 
tragically leavlnr behind a wife and child. Again 
the crowd Jumps up and roars. 

The shots of the crowds at these three Intervals are 
conceptually Identical, long-shots held for about a 
second of hundreds of people roarlnr In unison. ,hat 
glls the reason? Enter lawks's Initial theme. Tor 
” not the first nor the last tine In his career. Hawks 


Is creating distinctions In THE CROWD ROARS between 
his heroes and the rest of the world. 

.julte clearly the heroes of the film are the brothe: 
drivers, Joe and Eddie Greer, and their heroic status 
Is to be understood Initially for typically Hawkslan 
reasons. They are extraordinarily competent profes¬ 
sionals In an extraordinarily dangerous profession. 

Joe Greer Is winner of the Indianapolis 500 and his 
younger brother addle Is so naturally skilful that 
he challenges Joe's racing superiority from the first 
time that they compete. 

But beyond competence and also competition exists a 
natural regard between the Greer brothers for each 
other's abilities. A Hawkslan hero Inevitably respect 
his adversary If there Is talent present, whether he 
’be an enemy German pilot (THE DAWN FATR0L) or a hired 
gunslinger for the bad guys (EL DORADO). Instead of 
feeling threatened by Eddie In THE CROWD ROARS, Joe 
Is proud that his younger brother Is such a good 
driver. He welcomes Eddie's competition and devotes 
many hours of teaching time to making Eddie even more 
expert. 

If Joe and Eddie are Hawks's heroes, who are his 
non-heroes? The crowd, humanity at large. The rail 
between the racetrack and the grandstand Is both a 
literal and symbolic divider between the two kinds 
of people who Inhabit Hawks's world, the doers, the 
bystanders. 

While Joe and Eddie stoically risk their lives 
racing (Hawks In an Interview, "...there must be 
danger. To live or to dlel What drama Is greater?"), 
the audience crouches on their seats, vicariously 
living through experiences they possess neither the 
skill nor the courage to enact. And when the drivers 
who challenge death come face to face with Its reality 
the crowd leaps up and roars, exhllerated (and safe 
In their seats), to watch the crash. 

The racing audience Is described In bitter terms 
by Joe's girlfriend, Lee (Ann Dvorak). "A lot of 
people watching for wrecks and roaring for blood. 

All they want to see Is a car turn over so they can 
hold their breath. And, In the end, when they remove 
what's left of you, they point to It and say, 'Oh, 
they've taken him awayl'". 

Racing for fame and glory therefore Is reduced 
to absurdity because the driver attempts to Impress 
persons who care nothing about him. Joe sensibly 
tells his younger brother. "You can't take the roar 
of the crowd and cash in on It," 

If Hawks's personal concerns had ended here In 
THE CROWD HOARD with this simple dramatization of 
the most obvious differences between the Hawkslan 
hero and the rest of the world, the film still could b 
said to hold an Interest, though rather limited, for 
those concerned with the director. Luckily, however, 
a closer scrutiny of the movie reveals that Howard 
Hawks's personal concerns go considerably deeper, 
finally Into a rather sophisticated exploration of 
the complete nature and definition of heroism. Throug 
critically focussing In on Joe Greer's character. Hawk; 
comes to show that professional skill and bravery In 
the face of death are only at the surface, the first 
qualifications of the true hero. 

Although Joe Is superior to the crowd In terms of 
physical prowess and courage, he has much to learn 
about Interpersonal relationships. He Is a failure 
both as a brother to Eddie and lover to Lee, lording 
over them, making Impossible and ridiculous demands oi 
them. Joe can not realize that. If the three related 
together as equals, reciprocal benefits could be 
gained, and they could help each other toward better 
lives. 

What THE CROWD ROARS finally Is about Is“the perso 
nal education and maturation of the Hawkslan hero, as 


12 


U Joe Greer prows In his relationships to both Eddie and 
IjLee, emerging as a character to admire "both on and 
^off the track." 

In common with Douglas Scott In 1930's THE DAWN 
FATHOL and also "Scarface" Tony Camonte In 1932's 
SCAR 0 ACE. Joe Greer Is an extremely protective, pa¬ 
ternal older brother whose younger protectorate de¬ 
sires freedom to make his or her own decisions. 

In THE DAWN PATROL Scott's concern for his younger 
brother, Gordon, Is understandable and completely well- 
founded. Scott Is a tough fighter pilot In WWI, but 
doesn't want Gordon, a youth right out of high school, 
to fly against the Germans. Gordon flies anyway, and 
Is shot down and killed on his first mission. 

Hut In SCARFACE and THE CROWD ROARS, the protective¬ 
ness Is neurotic, bordering on the psychotic. "Scar¬ 
face" Tony Camonte runs around with women but wants his 
sister, Cesca, to stay away from men. When Gulno 
(George Ftaft) Is found In a room with Cesca, Camonte 
murders his friend In cold blood and without regret. 

The Implications here are clean Tony's claims on 
his sister are blatantly Incestuous desires which are 
returned In part by Cesca. At the finish of SCARFACE, 
Tony and Cesca die without ever having grown out of 
their perverse bond. 

THE CROWD ROARS continues dealing with the theme 
of excessive brotherly love, but here the protective¬ 
ness of Joe for younger brother Eddie is ambiguously 
motivated. (If It be latent homosexual desire the 
Issue Is clouded over In similar fashion to the count¬ 
less other passionate male relationships In Hawks's 
films.) In any case, Joe's obsessed methods of pro¬ 
tection follow classical Victorian lines, beginning 
with the harsh employment of a double standard to 
protect Eddie from the vices of the world. 

Joe drinks, but forbids his brother to touch li¬ 
quor, and he hides from Eddie his sexual Involvement 
with Lee. Furthermore he keeps Edd^e away from 
women so that Eddie won't be ruined for racing. Joe 
goes so far as to toss Ann (Joan Blondell) physically 
out of Lee's apartment because he suspects that she 
has eyes on Eddie. 

The level of Joe's neurosis reaches Incredible 
proportions. First he moves out of Lee's room and 
In with Eddie, telling Lee that, "The kid doesn't 
know a thing about us... We can't go on like we were 
on account of him. I got an apartment at the hotel. 

The kid and I'll take that. It's all right with you, 
isn't It?" The fact that It Isn't "all right" with 
Lee doesn't matter at all. 

Joe carries his near-madness to Its logical con¬ 
clusion. He breaks up with Lee because she Is sup¬ 
posedly a bad Influence on his brother, saying, "I 
have nothing against you personally." Then Joe 
tracks down Ann, who Is now living with Eddie, and 
tries to Intimidate her Into breaking off with his 
brother. 3ut Eddie, who Is luckily not the neurotic 
of Cesca In SCARFACE, defends Ann when Joe Impugns 
her virtue. A fight precipitates, and the relation¬ 
ship of Joe and Eddie temporarily Is severed. 

A key scene of the movie follows, the second car 
race of brother against brother. The first had been 
a model of adult, friendly competition built on mu¬ 
tual respect. But the second race Js a descent Into 
Immaturity and Irresponsibility as Joe and Eddie 
compete solely out of mutual hatred. Joe makes 
his childish disgrace complete by drinking heavily 
before the event. 

If It Is tempting to be Irresponsible and childish 
(Hawks's comedies), the consequences of Irresponsibi¬ 
lity can be tragic (Hawks's serious worksK Spud, 

Joe's best friend, tries to Intercede his own car bet¬ 
ween those of the feuding brothers to avoid fraternal 
bloodshed. But drunken Joe nudges Spud's car out of 
the way and It crashes Into a wall. Spud Is killed. 

He leaves behind a wife and a child. 

(Later In 1935's CEILING ZERO the Irresponsibility 
of Cagney's Dizzy Davis, daredevil pilot, would lead 
to the aerial death of his friend, Tex, who leaves a 
wife to mourn him.) 

At this point of the film, Joe's degeneracy has 
reached near bottom and his heroic qualities have dis¬ 
sipated. He no longer has a girlfriend, or a brother 
who cares for him. His best friend Is dead owing to 
Joe's Irresponsibility. Joe Is an alcoholic. And 
because of the deterioration of his personal life, 
even Joe's racing abilities have diminished. Spud 
Is killed, Eddie wins the race. Joe finishes seventh 
■4 and gives up the track. 

(9_3ut before examining Joe's regeneration, It Is 


necessary to go back earlier In the film and examineD 
with more attention Hawks's perspective on the second f- 
major relationship of Joe's life, his Involvement with 
his girlfriend Lee. Here is a concern which evolves 
Into a recurrent theme In Hawks's filmst the problem 
of how women fit Into Hawks's male dominant adventurer 
world. 

Hie more one thinks about THE CROWD ROARS, the more 
the development of the Joe-Lee relationship seems to 
mark a major change In Hawks's thinking. For the first 
time there Is an admittance of women on an equal basis 
(or almost equal) with the men In the Hawkslan society. 

1929's A GIRL IN EVERT PORT had ended happily be¬ 
cause female companionship had been rejected In favor 
of the male cameraderle of the two main characters. 

1930's THE DAWN PATROL had not even mentioned the 
existence of women In Its hundred odd minutes, and 
earlier 1932*s SCARFACE had found Tony Qamonte final¬ 
ly interested only In his sister. 

In THE CROWD ROARS, however, It Is absolutely 
clear that Joe makes a grave mistake In throwing away 
the love of Lee. He suffers for It, becoming a loner 
tramp who hops freight cars and eats food that others 
drop on the ground. In contrast Is Spud's Joyful mar¬ 
riage before his death and, more conclusively, the 
life together of Edward and Ann, which Is both happy 
and productive. To rebut Joe's warped logic that women 
destroy men's professional abilities, Howard Hawks — 
shows Eddie living with Ann yet winning the big race. 

Joe no longer lives with Lee and finishes seventh. 

What Joe seems to represent In the first part of 
the movie Is a primitive kind of masculinity which 
views caring too much for a woman as a serious weak¬ 
ness, a philosophy which has appeared at tines to be 
exactly that of director Hawks. In place of the prime 
Importance of women In Joe's value system are the life 
of action and danger and also the camaraderie of men 
again both highly esteemed by Hawks. 

In perhaps the most Interesting vignette In THE 
CROWD BOARS, Hawks visually dramatizes Joe's system 
of values, leaving little doubt of the worth Joe 
places on his relationship with Lee. The scene oc¬ 
curs when Joe arrives by train In his hometown after 
winning the 500. He forces Lee to remain aboard be¬ 
cause he Is ashamed to have her meet his family) 

Joe climbs off the train with Spud and embraces 
his waiting brother and father (Guy Klbbee). A 
newspaper reporter asks for a picture and the Greer 
male s sta nd hugging each other, symbolically three 
generations of grandfather (Kr. Greer), father (Joe), 
and son (Eddie). (This Hawkslan symbolic three gen¬ 
eration male utopia appears In all three of the direc¬ 
tor's last westernsi Walter 3rennan (grandfather), John 
Wayne (father), Ricky Nelson (son) In RIO BRAVO, for 
example.) _ 

The three Greers and Spud walk past the train. Joe 
trails behind, blows a kiss up to Lee, then hurries on 
to Join the others. There Is a close-up of Lee look- 
In g longingly through the train window which separates 
her from Joe and his life (an analogous symbolic divi¬ 
der to the rail between participant and spectator at 
the racetrack). 

Hawks finishes this scene with a vastly revealing 
shot. A walk-way Is released from a box-car, and Joe's 
race car drops out. (Joe's car can debark, but girl¬ 
friend Lee can notl ) In the same shot are seen friend 
Spud and the three Greers, arm In arm, all eyeing the 
race car. Thus Included In the frame Is the totality 
of Joe's meaningful worldi his male relatives, his 
male friend, and his car. When the train takes off 
with Lee Inside It, Joe could not be less concerned. 

Joe's consequent education, and presumably that of 
director Hawks, Is to learn finally that (misusing 
Hemingway), "A man alone ain't got a chance." A life 
of action Is not sufficient unto Itself. The Hawkslan 
hero needs additionally both male friends and a good, 
strong woman. 

There Is a long way from the misogyny of A GIRL IN 
EVERY PORT In 1929 to the serious love triangle of late 
1932 's TIGER SHALL, In which the two heroes. Hike and 
Flpes, both wish to possess the remarkable 3ulta, the 
fir st of Hawks's fully developed and admirable hero¬ 
ines. 3ut THE CROWD ROARS Is the significant tran¬ 
sition film. For the first time the presence of a 
woman finally challenges the Importance of a racing 
car (or Its equivalent). 

Taking her cue from Ann, who chased after Eddie 
and won him over, Lee tracks down Joe after the big ^ 

aocldent and brings him back to her. As with many u 

future Hawkslan heroes, Lee's aggressiveness pays offJg 


13 


f Hawks's favorite women, Slim (Lauren Bacall) In TO HAVE 
t AND HAVE HOT and Feathers (Angle Dickinson) In RIO 
BRAVO, for example, successfully pursue their own men 
Instead of waiting to be chased. 

That Joe Is willing to accept Lee's help Is Indi¬ 
cative of his maturation. She feeds him and he eats 
the food. She leads him to a hotel to recuperate his 
strength (and presumably to rekindle their love rela¬ 
tionship) and he willingly goes with her. Finally 
Joe cries on Lee's shoulder, a truly remarkable moment 
for Hawks (who previously had been revolted In THE 
DAWN PATROL by the pilot who wept over the death of 
his friend). Howard Hawks's adult recognition here 
In THE CROWD ROARS Is that tears In a nan are not 
necessarily to be scorned, that there are times for 
the stoical mask to be broken. 

In the meantime, Joe has given up drinking, promp¬ 
ted by the tragedy which resulted from his alcoholism. 
Joe's growth therefore Is on two levels. He has used 
his self-reliance for the best of reasons, to quit the 
bottle. And he has abandoned the pig-headed, self¬ 
destructive side to his self-reliance by reaching out 
to Lee. 

Joe's final step toward regeneration-maturation Is 
accomplished quickly. In an off-screen scene, he Is 
re-unlted with brother Eddie before the big race, on 
much different terms them their original relationship. 

As the Indianapolis 500 begins (a year has passed since 
THE CROWD ROARS opened), Joe Is apparently working In 
Eddie's pit (necessary penance as Eddie's employee), 
and Eddie Is the driver. 

Host predictably the Greer car crashes and Eddie's 
auxiliary driver Is too badly Injured to continue rac¬ 
ing. And Eddie himself has crushed his arm, seriously 
Impairing his driving. Naturally, Joe's moment has 
now arrived, and the regenerated hero hops Into the 
driver's seat next to Eddie. Their car, returned to 
the track, takes off. 

The ending of THE CROWD ROARS is both shameless 
bravura cliche and, not surprisingly also, sincerely 
meaningful for Hawks, for It has symbolic reverber¬ 
ations all through his film career, culminating In 
Its almost exact duplication thirty-four years later 
In the absolutely different context of 1966's EL 
DORADO. 

In THE CROWD ROARS a regenerated drunk with recur¬ 
rent shakes (Joe) and a man with a severely crippled 
arm (Eddie) unite together, gain strength from their 
friendship, and win the big race. Although both are 
further Injured In the victorious process, they laugh 
together on the way to the hospital in the finale. 

In EL DORADO a regenerated drunk with recurrent 
shakes (J. P. Harrah) and a man with a severely orlp- 
pled arm (Cole Thornton) unite together, gain strength 
from their friendship, and win the big shootout. 
Although both are further Injured In the victorious 
gun battle, they laugh together as they hobble through 
town on their crutches In the film's finale. 

In both cases also the women who have been acknow¬ 
ledged to have major Importance to the male heroes of 
the movies (Lee In THE CROWD ROARS and Maudle In 
EL DORADO) finally are left to the sidelines from 
the moments of the big actions. Cole places Maudle 
at the edge of town before the climactic shootout. 

And meaningfully in terms of the symbolic geography 
of THE CROWD ROARS, Lee sits with the spectators and 
becomes part of the crowd, leaving the danger of the 
racetrack to Joe. 

Howard Hawks's complete surrender to his women 
characters hardly ever has been a decision of ease, 
beginning with, and typified by, the seml-relapsed 
choice of a finish for THE CROWD ROARS. Instead of 
concluding with the reconciled Lee and Joe, Hawks ends 
the part of Lee In the movie as she sits In the grand¬ 
stand. Hawks prefers to go out with the camera on 
his two male heroes, seemingly reaffirming from no¬ 
where the old Hawkslan theme of male camaraderie 
between skilled professionals as the highest of 
emotional states. Only In his later Forties Bogart- 
nacall dramas (TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT and THE BIG 
SLEEP) does Hawks finally manifest the courage In 
In his serious works to place man and woman together 
In the same final frame as a testament to his equal 
regard for hero and heroine. 

And If EL DORADO In 1966 represents another re¬ 
gression, with Haude deleted from the finish for the 
playing of two different male cameraderle scenes (Cole 
and J.P., J.P. and Bull), the conclusion of Hawks's 
r last film, RIO L030, returns women to prime Importance, 
► representing perhaps the final statement on the place 


of women In the Hawkslan world, a constant trouble to 
Howard Hawks's psyche ever since he decided that Joe 
needed Lee In THE CROWD ROARS forty years ago. 

RIO LOBO's "comfortable" oldCord McNally (John 
Wayne), whose age must be close to that or Hawks, Is 
anything but a sex symbol In the movie. One young 
woman spends the night next to him because he seems 
safer than the young man pursuing her. 

But after the Inevitable shootout, Hawks contrives 
a miracle ending In which Cord gets a woman, a beauti¬ 
ful young woman who Is also a competent gunslinger. 

The last shot of RIO L0B0, thus of Hawks's film 
career to date, shows man and woman united, walking 
off happily together. 

Hawks's concluding filmic statement from the wis¬ 
dom of old age Is thus a reafflrmatlon of the most 
mature moments In THE CROWD ROARS In which Hawks 
demonstrated that the hero's life Is not complete 
without a good woman. This will have to stand as 
Hawks's final word. That Is, until Howard Hawks 
makes another film. 



We have discussed how THE CROWD ROARS fits Into the 
genres being developed after the troubles with gangster 
films. TIGER SHARK, however, does not fit Into any 
easily definable genre. TIGER SHARK also contrasts 
with other more typical studio qualities of THE CROWD 
ROARS. 

THE CROWD ROARS Is a fast moving story, paced by 
Warners rapid editing and competent speedy dialogue 
performances by Cagney, Dvorak and Hlondell. It uses 
dull sets, but the lighting and focus de-emphaslze 
them. The racing sequences seem separate from the 
rest of the movie. TIGER SHARK Is generally more 
leisurely paced, and we think the performance by 
Edward G. Robinson as a Portuguese fisherman complete 
with accent may be the finest of his career. In one 
of the few early sound films to be done on location— 
It was actually filmed In waters off San Diego and 
Mexico— Hawks with the help of Tony Gaudlo has attempt¬ 
ed to make the characters a part of their surroundings 
in what Is probably one of the most visually Integrated 
Hollywood films of the time. The similarity of llght- 
the fishing sequences and the 

SHARK a continuity lack- 


Edvard G. Robinson as Mike Masccrena In TIGER SHARK 


In fact, this visual Integration Is even carried 
to more self-consciously arty extremes than we have 
seen In other Hawks films. The various conflicts with 
the sharks, plus sone of Mike's comments about them, 
for example, "The sharks settle everything." sug- 
gest some sort of fatalistic relationship between Mike 
and the sharks. But this element, not fully followed 
through, Is In fact contradicted by the Intense study 
of character relationships that Is developed In the 
film. 


I don't want to do a picture better, I want to 
do It like It was. In the old days at Warner 
arothers, I made one picture eleven times. It 
started off with a picture called TIGER SHARK, 

In which Edward G. Robinson lost an arm. I fol¬ 
lowed the script of TIGER SHARK scene for scene 
and made the same thing as LUMBERJACK, only this 
time the guy lost a leg Instead of an arm. 

I made It as BENGAL TIGER, exactly the same, 


Then 1 
scene^J 


14 




A for scene, only now he was a llon-taner for a 
ncircus and he lost his arm. The writers protested 
v that he had lost his arm In TIGER SHARK, and I 
told them that he may have lost his arm In TIGER 
SHARK too, but he's got two arms. Later I did 
TIGER SHARK over again with big-game hunter In 
Africa. 

- 3ryan Poy, producer at Warners (1) 


_____m) and MANPOWER (19M) 

BENGAL TIGER, a 59-minute cheaple, Is probably most 
representative of the series. The lonely, middle-aged 
lion-tamer loses a leg, gets a girlfriend, loses her 
and dies trying to kill her younger boyfriend, all 
very pathetically. In this melodrama, the hero does 
very littlei rather he is acted on, and the audience 
either feels sorry for him or Is bored. The action 
Is restricted to the hero's point of view, and none 
of the other characters Is developed. By contrasting 
this prototype with TIGER SHARK, we hope to show how 
Howard Hawks has converted the most banal subject Into 
an Interesting and serious study of a love triangle. 

In a questlon-and-answer session at the Chicago 
Film Festival, November 1970. Hawks revealed one of 
tne ways In which he transformed the script of TIGER 
SHARK. He said that the script of TIGER SHARK called 
for Mike Mascerena to be a sad, qulet^ character (simi¬ 
lar to the hero of BENGAL TIGER). Since Hawks did not 
like this, he wrote additional dialogue every evening 
and worked It out on the set with Edward G. Robinson. 
Kike emerges from this as one of the gayest, most 
lovable heroes we have seen In any Hawks film. Further, 
while BENGAL TIGER dwells on the scenes where the hero 
Is painfully fitted with his new limb and learns to 
walk on It, TIGER SHARK outs Immediately from the 
scene where Mike loses his arm to a scene where he Is 
scratching his friend Pipes' back and laughingly 
saying It Is a good thing he got his hook. 

Thus we never feel sorry for this middle-aged, 
homely, one-armed Portuguese fisherman. Rather, we 
enjoy, like him, his ability to compensate for these 
apparent defects. One method of compensation Is In 
the best Hawks tradition—he remains a competent pro¬ 
fessional throughout. In his own words, he Is "... 
the best fisherman In the whole Pacific Ocean." 

Actually, he Is known as one of the best In the Por¬ 
tuguese colony of San Diego. In this respect. Hike 
resembles John Wayne and company, on crutches, para¬ 
lysed, or crazy. In that great trilogy of westerns 
which eulogizes strength In old age. 

Mike's other method of compensation Is through his 
good nature and sense of humor. These qualities are 
displayed most often In his playful boasting about his 
abilities with fishing and with women. This boasting 
becomes the central Image for the problem studied In 
the film, that of people at different levels of matu¬ 
rity trying to relate to each other. Through this 
Image, we can contrast Mike's relationship with his 
young native American friend Pipes (Richard Arlen) 
to his relationship with Qulta (Zita Johann). The 
theme seems to be that a relationship between two 
people at different levels of maturity must fall 
unless the Immature one can grow up. Unlike the 
Immature Joe Greer In THE CROWD ROARS, Kike Is not 
shown as a character with a moral flaw. Although his 
relationship with Qulta falls, Mike's friendship with 
Pipes Is happy and Idyllic. Because of this moral 
objectivity, we think TIGER SHARK Is a more sophisti¬ 
cated film thematically than THE CROWD ROARS. 

Mike's relationship with Pipes is Jovial, childlike, 
and presexual. Although Hike has no luck with women, 
he makes up for It by bragging, and In fact seems more 
Interested In creating the Impression that he has women 
than In actually having one. Although Pipes has more 
luck with women, he Is more attached to Mike than he Is 
to them. All this Is brought out In a sequence early 
In the film. While saying goodbye to his girlfriend 
before leaving on a fishing cruise. Pipes would rather 
tell his girlfriend what a great guy Mike Is than kiss 
her goodbye. While she tells him how much she will 
miss him, Pipes looks over her shoulder at the boat. 

On board ship. Kike Is having an argument with his engl. 
neer Fishbone (Vince Barnett, the comic secretary In 
SCARFACE) over whether or not Kike was with a woman 
the night before. In this comic exchange, as Kike 
grows more excited, his Imaginary woman grows more 
beautiful. Finally Pipes enters and makes up a story 
which supports Mike and satisfies Fishbone. Later, 

■€ Mike and Pipes have a good laugh over this, suggest- 
fllng that their most truthful and satisfying relatlon- 





ship Is with each other, and that heterosexual rela- W 
tlonshlps are not necessary for their happiness. K 

Quite reacts to Kike's childish qualities In a 
more adult manner. Having met her after her father 
was killed In a fishing accident on his boat, Kike 
has nursed her back to health from sickness and de¬ 
pression. During the second of three scenes In her 
room, she begins commenting on his bragging about his 
successes with women by saying simply, "You're lying, 
Mike," or, "That's a lie too, Isn't It?". Bhe says It 
firmly, but with a smile. After all, It Is this play¬ 
ful quality In Hike which has helped cheer her out of 
her depression. It Is a pleasant hint that she will 
not relate to Mike In the way that Pipes has. Intro¬ 
duced here casually, this contrast between the Im¬ 
mature Kike and the mature Qulta Is developed, with Its 
more serious consequences. In the third scene between 
them. Since this scene establishes the lack of com¬ 
munication between them, and Its causes, we wish to 
examine It In some detail. Hawks here shows himself 
the master at control of dialogue and gesture, and 
unobtrusive but functional composition. 

As the scene opens, Qulta Is being attacked by 
the heavy (J. Carroll Nalsh, who Is not granted a 
name). Hike enters, grabs him with his hook and 
throws him out. Qulta goes over and sits down 
In a medium two-shot which sets up the scene. Mike, 
standing, looks down at her from the right side of 
the frame. In the background are diagonal timber 
supports which appear to connect upward from her face 
to his. This composition Is both a direct Image In 
terms of what Kike has done for her, and an ironic 
erms of their relative emotional and psy- 

ln this scene. 


are used In this scene, close-ups 
of each from the other's point of view, with the 
other's shoulder visible In the frame.) 


Mike begins nervously by offering to protect her 
and give her a place to live. He Is obviously trying 
to ask her to live with him, but can't ask It directly. 
Instead, he falls Into his bragging routine, "...You 
know, pretty near every girl In town been after me...", 
trying to build up to the question. Qulta keeps Inter¬ 
rupting and trying to direct him, saying, "What's on 
your mind, Kike?", until she finally asks the question, 
"oo you want me to live with you, Mike?". Then, as 
ne eagerly awaits her decision, she lifts up a 
cigarette, saying, "Got a match. Kike?". She Is try¬ 
ing to slow him down, as a mother might try to calm an 
excited child. And she has had to ask the question 
which will begin this supposedly mature relationship. 

When she agrees to live with him and Mike says he 
will get a priest, she looks surprised at the marriage 
proposal and says so. But Hike, more assured now 
Insists that his money and his big boat will be eAough 
to assure their happiness. In the basic two-shot, she 
says she wants to tell him something, but Mike, put¬ 
ting his hand on her shoulder, says they can talk after 
marriage. During the next exchange, she taps him 
on the chest with her finger and speaks firmly, though 
obviously straining under her strong attachment to hlmi 

QUITAi Kike, I'm not In love with you. 

MIKEi Oh sure you are. You don't know anything 
about love. You Just a little one, Just a little 
child. 

QUITAi I'm not a child, Mike, and I know about 
love. 

KIKEi You don't mean you married already? 

Qulta comes as close to a statement of theme as we 
hear anywhere In the film. It should be clear now ^ 

that the composition represents Kike's attitude towards ft 
Qulta, but that this attitude Is the opposite of the H 


freallty, for she Is trying to protect him from his 
flchildish lack of understanding, She has to keep 
“stopping him with mature gestures—the cigarette, 
and now the tapping—In order to keep him under 
control• 

Then she explains about her past, how she had tried 
to commit suicide after a failed love affair. Cut to 
a close-up of Hike from her point of view. He looks 
affected by what she has said. He turns around, walks 
a few steps back, faces her and the camera again from 
a greater distance, and asks her If that was why she 
was sick. She says maybe. Hike starts this next 
response slowly, speaks faster and moves back toward 
her and the camera as he picks up confidencei 

Um...yeah, then you, you have very bad time, huh? 

Oh well, you know, you know, I'm no angel myself. 

You know, nobody put wings on Hike. I take a 
chance. What do you say? 

Two things are Important here. First, the way he 
says this Is the way In which he built up speed and 
confidence In his earlier bragging scenes, such as 
the one with Fishbone. And, Just as the two-shot 
seemed to represent his attitude toward Qulta, so here 
his movement back toward the camera, growing larger, 
suggests that he Is trying to build himself up for 
Quite. 

Second, he misinterprets what she has said. He 
interprets her story as a confession that she has been 
a bad girl and responds by forgiving her, saying he has 
been bad himself. This lack of moral sophistication 
Is an extension of those childish attitudes which 
earlier equated happiness with money and a big boat. 

What she has tried to explain to him Is what she had 
told him Just before—that she Is not a child and that 
she knows about love—and Hike has been unable to un¬ 
derstand this. Both by what she lias said and the firm 
manner In which she has said It, Qulta has established 
herself as the adult In contrast to Mike, childish and 
nervously babbling. When she accepts him, apparently 
out of pity and a feeling of indebtedness to him, she 
Is accepting a relationship which has no firm basis In 
understanding and Is bound to fail, as Indeed It does. 

While in the first half Mike has been the central 
character, the second half of the movie deals more 
with Pipes and Qulta as they fall in love. As Qulta 
finds It more difficult to live with Hike, Hike re¬ 
mains blissfully Ignorant until the end that anything 
Is wrong. The deterioration of the Mlke-Qulta rela¬ 
tionship and the growth of the Qulta-Plpes relationship 
Is made concrete in three reverberating scenes which 
tie together the.second half of the film. Within each 
scene Is the image of someone lying helpless and being 
cared for by someone else. They suggest that Qulta Is 
the strongest, most mature of the three, that Kike Is 
Immature and helpless as a child, and that Pipes grows 
to emerge somewhere In between. 

The first scene occurs at the party after the wed¬ 
ding. 'When Hike gets helplessly drunk. Pipes leads him 
to the bedroom, lays him on the bed, and starts unbut¬ 
toning his clothes. Qulta walks In and says, "That's 
my Job now, isn't It?". For a moment the two of them 
stand over Mike before Pipes returns to the parcy and 
shows the guests to the door. By Itself the image 
seems fairly simple. Hike has moved from his relation¬ 
ship with Pipes to his marriage with Qulta, and ipes 
accepts his role of best man by leaving the room and 
announcing that the party is over. There Is also, of 
course, the visualization of Kike as a helpless baby, 
a completion of the Images established In the propo¬ 
sal scene. 

The second scene occurs after Pipes has been In¬ 
jured in a fishing accident on Hike's boat. Hike and 
other crew members carry Flpes Into Mike's bedroom 
and lay him on the bed. When the doctor comes, he asks 
Qulta to help. Hike starts Into the bedroom with them, 
but the doctor tells him twice, "We don't need you, 
Mike," and shuts the door on him. When the doctor 
Is finished. Hike stands at the door as he and the 
other crew members leave. Cut to a close-up of Qulta 
kneeling next to Flpes, comforting him. Kike looks in, 
smiles, closes the door and waits In the living room. 
The roles of Hike and Flpes have been reversed. Pipes 
Is now helpless In the bed and Mike acts out the best 
man role in a striking parallel with the first scene 
as he shows the crew members out the door. The most 
noticeable difference Is that, although there was no 
shot of Qulta helping Hike In the first scene, there 
Is a close-up of Qulta helping Pipes here. 

The difference can be explained. Qulta has reluc- 
<4tantly married Hikes she has even told him she does not 
/ love him. Between the two scenes there has been an 


episode where Qulta told Pipes she was In love with hiF|> 
and could not bear living with Kike any longer. Flpes fc> 
protested, saying they each owed too many debts to Kike 
to do this to him. On the fishing trip, Pipes told 
"Ike he wanted to leave San Diego. This Is clearly no 
solution, as Hike Ironically explained, saying Pipes 
makes Qulta happy. Flpes and Qulta would be miserable 
this way. the action and the second Image suggest 

that Qulta, the strongest. Is going to have to create 
the solution to this miserable triangle. 

The third scene closes the film. After Kike catches 
Flpes and *ulta caressing In the cabin of the boat, he 
throws Flpes to the sharks. During this. Kike falls In 
and Flpes saves him, but Hike Is mortally wounded. 

Hike Is laid on the deck and Pipes and Qulta kneel 
over him trying to comfort him. As he dies, Hike 
accepts their love, and dies happily, mumbling, In a 
return to his lovable childish bragging, that he Is 
"...the best bait In the whole Pacific Ocean." 3o 
the triangle has been satisfactorily worked out, as 
Mike accepts his position of helplessness and allows 
Pipes and Qulta, together, to oare for him. Although 
sad, this ending resembles the ending of TO HAVE AMD 
HAVE HOT, where Eddie accepts ollm's Imitation of him 
as a sign of her entrance Into the relationship and 
accepts his role of the helpless old baby who needs 
to be watched over. Further, the working out of the 
relationships between the lovers has been remarkably 
similar In each film. 

Just as Harry Morgan distrusts women and matures to 
accept Slim through his admiration for her strength and 
Integrity, so Pipes grows from a mistrust of Qulta to 
accept her love. Flpes first met Qulta after Kike told 
him he was getting married. In their first encounter, 
Flpes accuses her of marrying Hike for his money and 
subjects her to a series of Insulting questions. Her 
firm responses convince Pipes of her sincerity as the 
scene, which has been done In separate shots, closes 
with them In tne same frame. On the last fishing trip, 
Qulta for the second time urges her love for him and 
Flpes, sitting, argues again their debts to Mike. 

Qulta, who has nearly broken down In tears, says 
angrily, "3ut that's over now," and Flpes finally 
stands to kiss her, Just before Hike enters. 

These scenes have clearly charted the same growth 
as that of the Harry Morgan-Slim relationship—from 
mistrust to trust to love. And lij each case, the woman 
Is the strong figure. TIGER SHARK Is thus a landmark 
in Hawks's career, for Qulta Is the first fully de¬ 
veloped strong woma n In Hawks's films, although THE 
CROWD ROARS has begun the move lr. this direction In 
Its characterization of Lee. In fact we hesitantly 
suggest that Qulta cones across as a more Intense rep¬ 
resentative of the strong woman because of the film's 
freedom from the film nolr cynicism of the Lauren 
Bacall films In the Forties. The moral toughness of 
Qulta’s "3ut that's over now" stands out more against 
the film's stable environment than anything Lauren 
Bacall can say against the decadent background of 
her films. 



Finally, by looking back at SCARFACE, we can fur¬ 
ther see how Hawks's Ideas about maturity are becoming 
more sophisticated. The heroes are remarkably simi¬ 
lar when removed from their contrasting environments. 
Tony's bragging about his new furniture and clothes 
parallels Kike's bragging about his women. There Is 
even a line repeated In TIGER SHARK In this connection. 
As Hike Is getting dressed up to see Qulta, Pipes jok- H 
lngly compliments him for looking "effeminate," and K 



I hike accepts this as a compliment. 

But where In 3CAH FACE H awks seems to brand Immatu¬ 
rity as contemptible, largely because of Its social 
consequences. In TIGER SHARK he modifies this by show¬ 
ing Kike's perfect relationship with Pipes early In 
the film. Childishness becomes a weakness when It 
becomes Inappropriate, In this case when Hike enters 
a relationship that Is beyond his understanding. 
Further, where In SCAHFACE there_ls little suggestion 
of possible growth (Cesca even regresses), In TIGER 
SHARK Pipes * growth shows the maturation process at 
work. 


footnote 

1. Quoted in Ezra Goodman, The Fifty Tear Decline and 
Fall of Hollywood , l.’ew fork i Kacfadden, 1962 p.lfC 



itive from a chain gang 


BY RUSSELL CAMPBELL 

As long as he Is not mistaken for a serious 
artist, LeRoy can be delightfully entertaining. 
Divested of a spurious social consciousness, 

I AM A FUGITIVE PROM A CHAIN GANG and THEY WON’T 
FORGET are as much fun as WATERLOO BRIDGE and 
RANDOM HARVEST. - Andrew Sarrls (1) 


One of the stumbling blocks to an auteurlst 
criticism of the American cinema Is a film like 
I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG. The problem Is 
that Implicit In this embittered attack on chain 
gang barbarism and on the system which subjects an 
Innocent man to It are attitudes—particularly the 
notion that American society Is corrupt—that are 
not at all congruent with those we know to be held 
(through his public statements, his book It Takes 
More Than Talent , and his other films) by director 
Mervyn LeRoy. The only consistent approach, the 
one adopted by Sarrls, Is to discount those elements 
of the movie which embody Its "spurious" social 
consciousness, and to look for whatever value the 
film may have In what Is left. That this amounts 
to very little Is revealed by the utter Inapprop¬ 
riateness of terms like "delightfully entertaining” 
and "fun" applied to a movie that realistically studies 
the gruelling brutality of an American Institution. 

The exact story of the creation of the film Is 
burled In the mysteries of the Warners collective, 
elsewhere touched upon. The elements uncharacter¬ 
istic of LeRoy may be attributable to the author 
of the book, to any of Its three screen adaptors, 
to producer Hal Wallis or executive producer Darryl 
Zanuck ("the spilt of a later Zanuck-LeRoy picture, 

I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG, he makes clear, 
was also 90-10, but In favor of Zanuck" (2)). 

Jack Warner himself may even have been responsiblei 
.he cal^ls It "the first sermon I ever put on film" (3)* 
In any case, the key Issue Is realism. A useful 
comnarlson Is here provided by a prison drama leRoy 
directed for Warner Brothers two years earlier. In 
1930, entitled NUMBERED MEN. Prison In this film 
was depicted as a rest home where convicts relax, 
play checkers or the harmonica, and yelp with de- 
light at the opportunity of getting out Into the 
] Spring sunshine on a road gang. Once out on the 
l^-oa d, they are virtually unsupervised by guards 


and can spend an evening at a friendly local farm- f 
house, enjoying "Donut Night" (and for the lucky t 
hero, the embraces of his girlfriend, who happens 
to be there as a servant). The height of the ridi¬ 
culous Is reached when the melodramatic villain, a 
recalcitrant prisoner, makes a breaki eager convicts 
are Issued with guns to help the guards track him 
down. 

The startling contrast with this that I AM A 
FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG provides Illustrates the 
radical transformation Warners films underwent 
during the two worst Depression years. I AM A 
FUGITIVE Is dlsllluslonedi more than that. It Is 
an attempt to operate within an aesthetic new to 
Hollywood—It Is (as the warners exploitation cam¬ 
paign made much of) authentic . The film was based 
i the supposedly true autobiography I Am a Fugl 




from a Georgia Chain GangI serialized In 1_ __ 

tlve Mysteries from January to June 1931 and published 
In book form early In 1932" The author, Robert 
Elliott Burns, had, like James Allen In the movie, 
served overseas In World War I. The subsequent events 
of his life are also preserved. In substance. In the 
film! his drifting from Job to Jobi his arrest In 
Georgia—an unspecified Southern state In the film— 
for his (unwilling) participation In a hold-upi his 
sentence of six to ten years on a chain gang! his 
first escapei his rise to respectability and social 
prominence In Chicago! his relationship with his 
landlady who blackmails him Into marriage and subse¬ 
quently betrays him to the authorities when he demands 
a dlvorcei his voluntary return to the chain gang on 
the promise of an early pardoni the refusal of the 
prison commissioners to grant the pardoni and finally 
his second escape and continuing flight from the law. 

Burns was In New Jersey when the movie was released 
In November 1932, but not exactly "In hiding" as 
Warners publicity claimedi assured of support from 
State Governor Harry Moore, he gave a lecture at 
Westfield In conjunction with the film’s showing, 
and subsequently, according to Time magazine, "attended 
a luncheon at Trenton, sat next to Superintendent 
Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf of New Jersey’s State 
police" (4). Arrested shortly afterwards, Burns was 
saved from being returned to the chain gang a second 
time by Moore and two subsequent New Jersey Governors 
who refused to extradite him. His sentence was finally 
erased by the Georgia Pardon and Parole Board In 1945. 

Whether or not Burns himself actually underwent 
the brutalities described In his book ( Time claims 
that It gives "a highly exaggerated account of his 
own experiences" and that he later "admitted he had 
never been chained or whipped In Georgia" (5)), there 
can be little doubt that Renditions on the chain 
gangs were (are?), at least In part, as 3urns described 
them and as tne film depicted them. The New York 
Times of December 20, 1932 reportedi 

Charges of "cruel and Inhuman punishments," 
alleged to have been Inflicted within the last four 
years In Georgia prisons and prison camps on white 
and Negro convicts are contained In a letter sent 
yesterday to the Georgia prison commissioners 
by the Civil Liberties Union, ...which speaks of 
"the possibility of some action In the Federal 
Oourts based upon the Federal constitutional 
guarantee.” Supported by photographic and docu¬ 
mentary evidence gathered by John L. Splvak and 
published In part of his novel "Georgia Nigger," 
the charges, In addition to detailing alleged 
cruelties to convicts, cites "six unexplainable 
deaths" among them. 

In Florida, two guards had recently been tried 
for the killing of a young convict, Malllefert, 

In the Florida Chain Gang "sweat box." (The War¬ 
ners Press Book for the film described this as a 
"timely tie-up.") 

The sweat box, In fact, was one of several tortures 
used as special punishments which were described In 
Burns's book but did not survive In the film version. 

The sweat box was, according to 3urns, a box 3ft. 
square, 6ft. high, wit h a f ew holes for ventilation. 

In which a convict would be kept under a fierce sun 
for several days on end, with a chunk of cornpone 
and a cup of water every 24 hours. Other tortures 
Included the "Jack"—stocks from which convicts would 
hang In mld-alr by their ankles and wrists for the 
period of an houri "plckshacks"—a bar of steel 
weighing ten pounds, about 30 Inches long, that a 
convict would wear In addition to his normal shackles 
and chains for 90 days: and the "La Grange necklace"— fc 
an Iron collar chained to the floor which the convi ct E 


17 












Qwoulc 


J would wear when sleeping, for the same period. 

<3 Despite the fact that the film was In these 
respects a toned-down version of the original, some 
reviewers still found It hard to believe. Kordaunt 
Hall, writing In the New fork Times , expressed his 
skepticism of the film's realism and then asserted 
that this did not matter anyhow, Interestingly missing 
the point as Sarris j<as to do thirty years later, 
but without methodological Justification! 

It seems scarcely possible that guards, even 
though they are dealing with hardened charac¬ 
ters, would become as vicious as those In the film. 
Such, however. Is the story, and whether the cond¬ 
itions exist Is not the question, for It Is a 
motion picture...(6) 

LeRoy had. In fact, employed two "technical 
advisers" on the fllmi Jack Killer, a former chain 
gang prisoner, and S. H. Sullivan, a prison camp 
guard for a number of years. The chain gang sequences 
seem quite authentic, and to me they are the most 
Impressive In the movie, both In themselves and In 
terms of the film's contribution to the development 
of realism In the American cinema. 



Particularly significant Is the film's concern 
simply with documenting. In explicit detail, the 
day-to-day routine at a Southern prison camp. Con¬ 
sider the following sequence, which occurs Immedi¬ 
ately after Allen has been fitted out with shackles 
and chains for his first term. The scene fades In 
on a long-shot of the Interior of the sleeping 
quarters at the prison campi two rows of cots, one 
each side of a center aisle lined with toilet oans. 

The convicts are sleeping. Superimposed Is the title 
"4120 A.K.". A guard walks down the aisle, turning 
on the oil lamps overhead. Next, a second guard 
enters and sounds a gong. In virtual unison, the 
convicts drag themselves to a seated position. The 
first guard calls out the order, "All right, pick 
'em upl •' and the prisoners reach for their Iron 
rings, through which the "building chain" Is run to 
secure them at night. The clanking noises which will 
continue through most of the scene begin. We next 
cut to an exterior shot showing a guard picking up 
a padlock by means of which the building chain Is 
attached to a heavy post. A close-up shows him 
turning his key In the padlock, releasing the chain 
which Is pulled through a hole In the wall. The 
procedure Is repeated for the second building chain. 
Inside, at the first guard's command to "Pull 'em 
throughl", two convicts haul on the building chains. 

A series of shots shows prisoners holding out their 
rings as the chains rattle through, with the exception 
of Allen, who Is still sleeping. With the chain 
Jerking at his legs, he awakes and sits up sleepily. 
The two convicts hauling at the building chain com¬ 
plete their task. Convicts toss their rings on the 
floor. The first guard strides angrily to Allen's 
cot, rips off his blanket, and pushes him roughly on 
to the floor. Saying, "That'll learn you to sit up 
and hold on to this ." the guard picks up Allen's 
ring and hurls It at him. In medium shot, we see 
the iron ring striking Allen on the forehead. At 
the command, "All right, you guys, get going there, 
get those shoes on and get upl", the convicts begin 
putting on their shoes, the striped top of their uni¬ 
forms, etc. 

At this point the commissary guard calls, "All 
right, come and get ltl" and prisoners begin filing 
J down the aisle towards the mess roomi one shot, 
tak en from Just above floor level, emphasizes their 


plodding feet. Allen, still dazed, picks up his 
chain and moves along with the rest to get his break- K 
fast, consisting, as we discover, of grease, fried 
dough, pig fat and sorghum. 

This sequence 13 followed by scenes handled 
similarly In the mess room, In the prison yard 
as the convicts are loaded on to trucks. In the 
quarry at dawn as the convicts begin swinging their 
sledges, In the quarry In the glaring light and 
scorching heat of midday, In the prison yard at 
night as the convicts are unloaded ("8 i 20 P.H.") 
and their chains checked, and In the mess room again 
as prisoners receive their second (Identical) meal 
for the day. 

Throughout these sequences close shots are used 
to emphasize mundane detail■ padlocks, the chain 
Jerking through Allen's ring, a sledge hammer smash¬ 
ing rock or striking a drill, the feet and legs of 
convicts as they step up to a guard who checks their 
chains one after another, pairs of hands washing In 
a tin bowl of dirty water, a tin plate of "food." 

The dominant sounds are of chains clanking and sledges 
ringing out, Interspersed with the staccato commands 
of the guardsi "Pick 'em upl", "Pull 'em throughl", 

"Put 'em down!", "Move onl", "Gome onl", "Let's gol", 

"By mel", "Get up there I", "Get out In there!", 

"Spread them outl", "Get out of herel". 

Brutality Is an Integral part of the routine, as 
Is made plain by the seeming lndlfferenoe of the con¬ 
victs to the maltreatment and suffering of their 
fellows. Allen Is struck by the ring hurled at him, 
and later knocked down by a punch to the Jaw when 
he wipes his brow without asking permission. An 
exhausted, physically 111 prisoner. Red, has a bucket 
of water thrown In his face by a guard who yells 
"You get to work or I'll kick that bellyache around 
your earsl". Earlier, Allen had been the only convict 
to show any concern when Red doubled up In pain at 
breakfast. 

Red Is again brutally handled In the scene which 
follows (we later see him "die out"—leave the camp 
In a coffin). It Is the end of the day, and the con¬ 
victs are stretched out on their cots. The warden 
enters, accompanied by two guards and carrying a huge 
leather strap. "All right boys," he says, "Show me the 
men that didn't give us a good day's work." A convict 
named Ackerman Is singled out, and then Red, who, a 
guard explains, "tried to pull a faint on us today." 
rfhen Allen lets an exclamation, "The skunk I”, escape 
him, the warden turns on him, viciously ejaculating 
"You're nextl". The actual lashings take place Just 
off camera. The shadow of the strap moves up and down 
the wall, as the crash of leather and (In Ackerman's 
case) excruciating yells of pain are heard. Allen 
follows Ackerman, who lurches back Into the room, 
his bare back striped. After Allen has received two 
blows (the first of sixteen) the camera moves down 
the aisle observing the convicts and their various 
expressions, some of horror, others of silent resent¬ 
ment, Indifference and even a smug satisfaction. 

The naturalism of the film Is enhanced by the 
skilful use of (presumably) backlot locations In the 
excellently handled escape sequences. The first takes 
place In swampland, with Allen pursued by bloodhounds. 
Dllys Powell wrote of the film In 1946i 

...It shows how little advance has been made since 
the early thirties In the use of sound In the cin¬ 
ema. The advance In sound recording is another 
matter, fiqt so far as the Imaginative use of the 
sound track In film narrative Is concerned, with 
the exception of one or two French films such as 
LA BETE HUHAINE and LS JOUR SE LEVE we have moved 
scarcely at all. There has been little Improvement 
on the sequence In LeRoy's film where the convict 
runs madly through the swamps, with whistles blowing 
and sirens hooting and bloodhounds howling and 
yelping In pursuit! where the spectator first hears 
the noise of the chase, then listens with the 
quarry hiding under the surface of the swamp-water, 
all sound shut out. (7) 

The second occurs In rocky hill country. Allen and 
a fe llow prisoner decamp In a quarry dump truck whose 
raised back shields them from bullets. An open tourer 
loaded with guards takes off In pursuit, and dust flies 
up from the narrow dirt roads as the vehicles skid 
around the corners_at speed. 

This second escape exemplifies the Justifiable 
artistic license which the scriptwriters—Howard J. D 
Green, Brown Holmes and (uncredlted) Sheridan Clbney— J) 





In many Instances took In translating the book to the 
screen. Burns's flight had In fact been less dramatic, 
although the truck episode Is related as a means of 
escape other prisoners had employed. (The use of 
dynamite to blow up the road and then a bridge to 
foil the guards Is a happy scriptwriter's Invention 
and a nicely Ironic touch—Allen In successful life 
Is a construction engineer.) The many unimportant 
departures from Burns's book need not be detailed 
(though It should be noted that the adaptors were 
most netlculously faithful In following the account 
of chain gang existence). But there are more sig¬ 
nificant changes which Illustrate the manner In which 
Burns's story was bent to be accommodated within the 
bounds both of developing Hollywood myths and of 
Warners pre-New Deal radicalism. 

Hajor distortions occur In the case of the female 
figures, who are made to conform to stereotypes to 
enhance the glamor of the film and the appeal of the 
character of James Allen. Firstly, Burns recounts 
that his home-town sweetheart had promised to wait 
for him when he was away during the War, but In fact 
married another man In his absence. Allen's sweet¬ 
heart, on the other hand. Is lyrically excited on 
his return. Secondly, the Chicago landlady whom 
Burns became familiar with, was blackmailed Into 
marrying, and was 
book, a 
forty 


Farrell, young, blonde, sexy, a strikingly modernized 
version of the vamp who Indicates her availability by 
suggestively touching a little finger to her tongue 
and whose sloppy hedonism Is denoted by butt-filled 
ashtrays, empty spirits bottles and overturned glasses. 
The third woman In 3urns's life was Lillian Salo, 
a Chicago taxi-dancer who might well have been an 
Inspiration for the Glenda Farrell figure In the film. 
Though 3urns paints a sympathetic picture of her In 
the book, he admits that he never heard from her 
again after one long-distance phone call when 
hiding In N'ew Jersey. Time magazine of December 26, 
1932, quoted her as saying, "A nice girl—I don't 
think...I'm In love with some one else right now." 

The Helen of the movie (Helen Vinson) Is simply a 
cllched romantic Interest, a society girl faithful 
to Allen to the last (she Is amusingly self-exposed 
by her one good llnei "There are no musts to my llfe« 
I'm free, white and twenty-one."). 

Allen himself Is given an occupation (construction 
engineer) more likely to appeal to Warners' predomi¬ 
nantly working class audiences than the real estate 
speculator/business magazine publisher that Burns was 
Interestingly, he Is also made to con- 
the "virtue resides 
Is the home of vice" 
with 
In 


19 















SOME WARNERS MUSICALS 

AND THE SPIRIT OF THE NEW DEAL 

BY MARK. ROTH 


THE NEW YORK STOCK MARKET crashed in October, 1929. 
The next month President Hoover said, "Any lack of 
confidence in the economic future or the basic 
strength of business in the United States is fool¬ 
ish."(1) In February 1931 he said, "Nobody is actu¬ 
ally starving. The hoboes, for example, are better 
fed than they ever have been."(2) Finally, as the 
depression continued, he was forced to recognise 
its existence! but he was ready with an excuse, not 
a plan for accioni "The depression has been deep¬ 
ened by events from abroad which are beyond the 
control of either our citizens or our government." 
(3) By March of 1933 and the inauguration of Frank¬ 
lin Roosevelt there were between 14 and 16 million 
unemployed. Into the void of political leadership 
came Roosevelt with his promise of a "New Deal” 
for the "forgotten man at the bottom of the eco¬ 
nomic pyramid." His first session of Congress last¬ 
ed from March 9 to June 16, 1933. In its first issue 
since resinning publication (July 1, 1933) the Lite¬ 
rary Digest gave a partial summary of the results 
of that session of Congress! Emergency Banking Re¬ 
lief, Economy Act, legalization of 3.2 beer, farm 
relief, inflation of currency, creation of the Ten¬ 
nessee Valley Authority and Civilian Conservation 
Corps, power for government control of hours, wages 
and production in all Industries, relief to home- 
owners, railroad reorganization, banking reform, 
and a 33.3 billion public works program.(4) With 
these actions and inspiring rhetoric Roosevelt 
created, for a time at least, a spirit of unity, 
optimism and pride which found expression in the 
best of the Warners musicals of the period. 

The archetypal Warners musical was born during 
the Presidential campaign of 1932, and began to 
decline by the end of 1933- It was a precursor and 
product of the optimlsm-in-the-midst-of-depresslon 
created by FDR. The high points of the Warners 
musical were 42ND STREET (1933) and FOOTLIGHT PAR¬ 
ADE (1933). They have the dynamism and power, 
lively dialogue and inspired direction by Lloyd 
Bacon and Busby Berkeley to raise them far above 
other efforts in the genre. These films focus on 
the production of the show-within-the-film. The 
direc tors of these sh.ows-withln-the-f ilm, Warner 
Baxter and James Cagney, are seldom off the screen. 
They dominate their respective films. As the musi¬ 
cal form weakens the production of the show-within- 
the-film becomes progressively less important and 


the director of the show becomes a weaker figure 
or is lost in the crowd. In 42ND STREET Warner Bax¬ 
ter is central and Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell are 
(thankfully) subordinated. This is also the situ¬ 
ation in FOOTLIGHT PARADE where Cagney dominates and 
and Keeler and Powell have minor parts. In GOLD- 
DIGGERS OF 1933, however, the stage director is a 
weak and somewhat foolish figure and the Keeler- 







|Powell team Is much more Important. The decline of 
'the figure then acceleratesi he Is essentially 
absent from DAMES (193*0. minor In FASHIONS OF 193** 
and GOLD-DIGGERS OF 1935. absent from GOLD-DIGGERS 
OF 1937 and played by the stiff Rudy Vallee In 
GOLD-DIGGERS IN PARIS (1938). GOLD-DIGGERS OF 1933 
Is a good film, but It Is weakened by the lack of 
of a strong male lead (such as Baxter or Cagney). 
After 1933 the musical form at Warners declines 
noticeably. DAMES has some of Berkeley's most 
elaborate spectacles, but the film drags badly 
until the last reel when Berkeley Is allowed to 
do his stuff. FASHIONS OF 193** Is weaker still. 
GOLD-DIGGERS OF 1935 belongs In a class of Its own 
and can't fairly be compared with the other War¬ 
ners musicals. After 1935 we see the form stiff 
with age In GOLD-DIGGERS OF 1937 and stiff with 
death and the wooden movements of Rudy Vallee In 
GOLD-DIGGERS IN PARIS. 

As we all know, the Depression not only raised 
questions about the viability of American capital¬ 
ism, but also called Into question the ethos and 
mythology which was both the product and support 
of that system. Musicals and crime films were the 
two major film genres to explore this crisis. Each 
In Its own way tried to come to terms with the 
effects of the worst economic crisis ever experi¬ 
enced by Americans. Both the gangster film and the 
musical were basically urban. For the gangster, 
"making It" meant "making it" in Chicago or New 
York. There was no such thing as being a "big shot" 

In a small town or rural area. Similarly, success 
In the theatre meant success In New York. As Doug¬ 
las Newton wrote In Sight and Sound , "tthe musical] 

Is an urban product designed to please the towns¬ 
man..."(5). The relationship of each genre to the 
Ideal embodied In the term American Dream Is Inte¬ 
resting and ambiguous. Discussion at length Is be¬ 
yond the scope of this essay, but one point Is es¬ 
sential. the gangster Is basically a loner, and 
(most often Powell and Keeler) are parts of larger 
groups, and they succeed. The gangster has his 
gang, but he can fully trust no one and must there¬ 
fore be self-reliant. To the extent that the gang¬ 
ster represents the American Ideal of "rugged Indi¬ 
vidualism" his career Illustrates that that formula 
no longer works. In the Warners musicals, on the 
other hand, each person Is sho wn t o be part of 
an Interdependent group, the overall Impression 
emphasizes the Importance of social cohesion and 
harmony - symbolized most clearly In the dances. 

To what extent does this represent a change In 
the traditional American ethos of success? 

The secularized version of what Weber called 
the Protestant Ethic was realized as a conscious 
(If not quite serious) doctrine by Ben Pranklln. 

3en may not have taken his preachments as seriously 
as is usually assumed, but his Ideals met little 
opposition and flourished. This doctrine was form¬ 
ulated In Its most popular form by Horatio Alger, 
Jr., In the years immediately after the Civil War. 
His books, over a hundred of them, reached their 
greatest popularity between 1890 and the beginning 
of World War I. Alger's stories are mostly urban. 

His hero Is generally a boy of obscure birth (usu¬ 
ally from the country) who Is trying to survive 
In the big city (usually New York). He has no mate¬ 
rial advantages, but he has most of the virtues 
recommended by Pranklln. thrift, honesty, dili¬ 
gence, etc. The plots generally Involve some Inci¬ 
dent through which the boy's virtues are called to 
the attention of a benefactor who suitably rewards 
the hero. Generally the boy Is not given an outright 
gift of money, but Is offered a Job’and allowed to 
support himself decently. 

Two other elements which allow the typical Alger 
hero to rise In the world are often overlooked. 
First, the hero must have diligently prepared him¬ 
self to take advantage of the situation when It 
presents Itself. Usually this means that he has 
taught himself to read and do arithmetic. In Rag ¬ 
ged Dick , for example, Dick's quickness doing suns 
Is his major asset. Also Dick has somehow, some¬ 
where, taught himself to swim. But despite dili¬ 
gent preparation, success ultimately depends on 
luck. In Dick's case, while on a ferry to Brooklyn 
he Jumps overboard to save a girl who Is drowning 
and Is rewarded by her father with a Job. Of course, 
If Dick could not have swum he would not have got- 

L n his chance, but at the same time all the swlm- 
ng ability In the world would have done him no 


n 


good had he not had the luck to be at the right 
place at the right time. _ 

How does this Alger version of the Amerlc; 

Dream relate to the Warners musicals? On the sur¬ 
face there Is some similarity. Their typical plot 
does seem to echo an Alger novel. In **2ND STREET, 
for example, Ruby Keeler works hard, learns to 
dance, has her opportunity when the star of the 
show (Bebe Daniels) breaks her ankle, and "makes 
It." The myth of Individual Initiative, hard work, 
luck and ultimate success does seem to be suppor¬ 
ted by the typical musical plot. But while the myth 
Is supported by the plot, It is contradicted, or 
at least significantly modified, by the dance num¬ 
bers In which we see the Individual subordinated 
to the will of a single person - the director. In 
short. It seems there ls^a subtle shift In the 
content and realization of the Dream. The message 
Is that cooperation, planning and the guidance of 
a single leader are now necessary for success. The 
political Implications of this change are of major 
significance. 

Much confusion among critics Is created by the 
general misunderstanding of what exactly the War¬ 
ners musical form was and what It was trying (not 
necessarily consciously) to do. Douglas Newton 
states the aim of the musical precisely. He writes, 
"...the musical film performs the Important func¬ 
tion of creating a modern myth."(6) The Importance 
of this cannot be over-stated. The musical form Is 
essentially ritualistic. It Is meant to reaffirm 
faith - not to Illuminate conditions or states of 
being. The Warners musical of the early 1930s 
tried to come to terms with the questioning of the 
American Dream and to reaffirm faith In that Ideal. 
(Though, as has been noted, It was unconsciously 
creating a new myth.) 

From this point of view Cy Caldwell's criticism 
of FOOTLIGHT PARADE written In November 1933 Is 
Interesting. He writes. 

"The Indefatigable Warner Brothers have rolled 
up their sleeves and ground out another of those 
lavish cinema musical-comedies, all of which 
look and sound almost exactly alike to me. In 
fact after **2ND STREET and GOLD-DIGGERS OF 1933 
I was able to predict with a reasonable degree 
of accuracy every move that Ruby Keeler and Dick 
Powell were going to make In the current stand¬ 
ard work.... There must be something sacred about 
the plots of these Warners musicals that the high 
priests of the studio guard the ritual so reli¬ 
giously and beat off any suggestion for a major 
change. Apparently they abhor all suspense, all 
humor, all excitement, and pin their faith on 
the dance routines, which In this picture are 
almost fantastically lavish, slightly clad ladles 
wade and swim about a pool, bask on rocks with 
water cascading over them, form Into ensembles 
shaped like stars, like a sea serpent and other 
Interesting and beautiful groups that are re¬ 
freshing to watch..." (7) 

Though of course he uses the religious terminology 
("sacred*" "high priests," "ritual," "religiously") 
sarcastically, Caldwell has hit on the essence of 
the musical. It Is In fact like a religious ser¬ 
vice or ritual. Once we understand this, the repe¬ 
titious nature of the plots and much else becomes 
self-evident. The musical form, to succeed, must 
create a "poetic" atmosphere In order to separate 
the action from everyday reality. To quote Newton 
once again. "The fact Is that the musical has deep 
roots In myth and sentiment. In all that the ave¬ 
rage man feels as poetic..."(8). 

What about the repetitiousness of the plots? 

The plots do repeat and of course we know how 
they will end. But does one not know the end of 
the Christ story before he hears It repeated each 
Easter? He gathers with his fellows not to hear a 
new story (or plot), but to rededlcate himself to 
the meaning of a story hd* already knows. Repeti¬ 
tion Is the essence of a rltual-rell^lous experi¬ 
ence. Innovation and ritual are diametrically op- 
rosed. Thus, as we know. It was essential to the 
ritualistic aspect of Greek drama that the plots 
be already known to the audience. Similarly with 
the Warners musicals, through repetition (among 
other thlnss) these musicals achieved a ritualis¬ 
tic aspect - In this case specifically a ritualis¬ 
tic rededication to the Ideal of the American J 
Dream. This ritualistic distancing was more th®nj 





SV 


lty. 

What about the dances? Almost everyone (those 
who wait bored through the plot for Berkeley to 
be turned loose, and those who feel the dances 
slow up otherwise good comedy) agrees that the 
dances are removable. Isolated units having little 
Integral relation to the rest of the film. John 
Baxter's objection to the dances In GOLD-DIGGERS 
OF 1933 Is not atypicali "In the end Berkeley's 
dance numbers seem an Imposition on [MervynJ 
LeRoy's skilful comic patterni without them 
GOLD-DIGGERS migh t well be an even more enter¬ 
taining film than It Is now."(9) Nonetheless, 
once one Is aware of the ritualistic nature of 
the musicals he can quickly dispose of the Idea 
that the dances are expendable. They are no more 
expendable than chanting In religious services 
or Greek tragedy. They function as part of the 
fabric to raise the work to a poetic or mythic 
level and separate It from commonplace reality. 
Obviously a story can be told more quickly by 
talking than by chanting or slnglngi but It 
could no longer be the same story. Similarly 
with GOLD-DIGGERS OF 1933 or any of the other 
musicalsi perhaps they could be played as straight 
comedy, but If they were they would become some¬ 
thing other than what they are. 

It might be noted at this point that In terms 
of the ethic they embody, the Fred Astaire musicals, 
rather than being akin to the Warners products, 
are their opposite. Astaire Is too skilled as an 
Individual performer to be a suitable vehicle for 
an ethic of collective effort and cooperation. 

We are awed by his Individual achievement rather 
than by sheer mass as In a typical Berkeley num¬ 
ber. The Implication of the Berkeley-directed 
numbers Is that Individual skill matters much 
less than coordination, cooperation and leader¬ 
ship. The Individual movements are usually very 
simple. So too It Is worth noting that the func¬ 
tional Importance of having the Warners films 
often star the notably untalented Ruby Keeler 
and the not much better Dick Powell. The effect 
Is opposite to that Induced by Astaire. With 
Astaire we sit back and marvel at his grace and 
sophistication) with Keeler and Powell we say to 
ourselves, "If they can make It, anyone can." 

In the light of what has been said about the 
soclal-polltlcal-rltuallstlc nature of the War¬ 
ners musicals, we can see that the patriotic climax 
of POOTLIGHT PARADE Is not an odd aberration, but 
the logical culmination of the essence of the musi¬ 
cal form. Shot from above, we see hundreds of chorus 
boys and girls dressed as American sailors form an 
American flag, superimpose a picture of Roosevelt 
over It, and then form an NRA eagle and fire their 
guns In salute. This patriotic display Is the quin¬ 
tessence of the musical spirit. The musical is 
patriotic In the sense that It Is affirmative and 
optimistic and tries to create those emotions In Its 
audience. The end of FOOTLIGHT PARADE tries to func¬ 
tion as the Parthenon did for Athenians and the Crys¬ 
tal Palace did for Victorian Engllsnmen, saying In 
effect, "Must we not be a great nation, who could 
produce such a monument to our greatness." 

Both 42ND STREET and FOOTLIGHT PARADE are domi¬ 
nated by strong male characters (Warner Baxter ana 
Cagney) who play directors. The so-called "little 
people" who "make It" are not central characters In 
these films. (Though they later become major charac¬ 
ters as the musical form loses Its vitality.) The 
parallel between the strong director of the show- 
wlthln-the-fllra and the new strong political leader¬ 
ship In the country Is apparent. In these films the 
"little people" who succeed do so only by following 
the orders of the director. This change represents a 
major modification of the American Dream. The Ideal 
of Individual success has been transformed Into an 
Ideal of success through collective effort under the 
guidance of a strong director. This change echoes 
the new ethic espoused by Roosevelt In his first 
Inaugural address. Two paragraphs toward the end of 
that address summarize the new ethic■ 

If I have read the temper of our people correct¬ 
ly, we now realize as we have never realized before 

our Interdependence on each otheri that we cannot 
_ merely take but we must give as welli that If we 
3 are to go forward, we must move as a trained and 
J lo yal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a 


common discipline, because without such dlsclpll? 
no progress Is made, no leadership becomes effec- £ 
tlve. We are, I know, ready and willing to submit 
our lives and property to such discipline, because 
It makes possible a leadership which alms at a 
larger good. This I propose to offer, pledging 
that the larger purposes will bind upon us all as 
a sacred obligation with a unity of duty evoked 
only In times of armed strife.... 

We do not distrust the future of essential demo¬ 
cracy. The people of the United States have not 
failed. In their need they have registered a man¬ 
date that they want direct, vigorous action. They 
have asked for discipline and direction under lea¬ 
dership. They have made me the present Instrument 
of their wishes. In the spirit of the gift I take 
It.... 

In FOOTLIGRT PARADE (released November 1933) 
see the clearest embodiment of this New Deal spirit. 

In It James Cagney plays Kent, a director of musicals 
momentarily put out of work by the movies. He then 
contrives the Idea of mass producing "Prologues." 
short, live musical entertainments to accompany 
movies (a form briefly popular In t he ear ly 1930s). 

We see him trying to come up with Ideas and be¬ 
ginning to rehearse them only to have a competing 
producer consistently steal his Ideas before he can 
stage them. We also know, though he does not, that 
his two partners, Frazer and Gould, are stealing the 
profits and preparing a false statement for him 
showing that the company Is barely breaking even. 

As the crisis approaches, Kent has only three days 
to prepare as many Prologues for AppolInaras, an 
owner of 40 theaters wh o wil l decide after seeing 
the Prologues whether Kent or his competitor will 
get the contract. Before the big effort begins Kent 
assembles his cast and tells themi "Nobody leaves 
this place till Saturday night...You'll eat here... 
sleep here...for three days you'll live right In the 
studio.. .It's war...a blockade...You're gonna work 
your heads off...day and night...we're gonna drive 
you...and curse you...and break your heart...but by 
Saturday night we'll have what I want I..." Kent's 
military terminology echoes FDR T s Inaugural address. 

The military-political aspect of Cagney's leadership 
Is pointed out In the film by a montage of headlines, 
one of which lsi "Military Tactics Used In Prologue 
Factory, Studio In Stage of Siege." Cagney, like 
Roosevelt, is asking for sacrifices from the people, 
but promising to provide the leadership to make the 
sacrifices worthwhile. His dance director, played by 
Frank McHugh, mutters constantly, "It can't be done " 
Kent, however, Is confident and urges him on, one 
time shouting, "Well, what are you waiting for...an 
okay from Roosevelt?" The military atmosphere Is de¬ 
veloped as we see the cast sleeping In barracks-llke 
conditions on cots In large rooms and being summoned 
_to _meals by the army chow call played on a bugle. 

During this "siege" Kent learns that his partners hav 
have been cheating him. They approach him trying to 
mollify him and we have another verbal allusion to 
the New Deal. Gould sayst "er-r...about that accoun¬ 
ting mistake..." Kenti "Mistake my Aunt FannyI" 

Frazeri "We're giving you a new deal..." Kenti "And 
I'm the dealerl " 

FOOTLIGHT PARADE ends with the great "Shanghai Lll" 
dance number directed by Busby Berkeley. The young 
man who Is supposed to play the lead In the number 
opposite Ruby Keeler gets drunk trying to overcome 
ills Stage-fright, so at the last minute Cagney, reluc¬ 
tantly at first, takes over. (Suggestive of the 
political leader who did not seek power, but had 
power thrust upon him.) In the number Cagney plays 
the part of an American sailor out of uniform 
searching for his love, the prostitute "shanghai Lll" 
(Ruby Keeler). He searches for her through a huge, 
smokey bar-opium parlor among various nationalities 
and races. When someone Insults Lll In front of 
Cagney by Implying that she Is a prostitute, Cagney 
hits him and a huge multinational fight breaks out. 

The tight Is striking because of Its size and because 
such chaos Is rare In Berkeley's work. WheK order Is 
restored, miraculously, everyone In sight Is wearing 
an American sailor's uniform Including Cagney and 
Shanghai Lll. They march In military formations, do 
drills with their rifles, and finally form an American 
flag, portrait of Roosevelt and NRA eagle. The poli¬ 
tical message couldn't be more clean through disci¬ 
pline order triumphs ove r cha os , an d the father of 
that order (not an ungodllke figure) Is Roosevelt. 


22 



Stages of the Shanghai Lil sequence 



In the earlier 42KD STREET (March 1933) we discover 
the beginning of the spirit which reached Its climax 
In the Shanghai Lll number of FOOTLIGHT PARADE. The 
script for 42ND STREET was prepared during the Presi¬ 
dential campaign of 1932. If FOOTLIGHT PARADE Is the 
best expressslon of the early spirit of the New Deal, 
42KD STREET was Its nost perceptive precursor. An 
Interesting sidelight on the connection between these 
Earners musicals and the New Deal concerns the train 
chartered by Warner Brothers to publicize 42ND STREET. 
On March 18, 1933 Newsweek reported the following lte 
ltemi "Warner Brothers chartered a special train, 
painted It gold and silver, loaded It with 14 stars 
and a galaxy of chorus girl satellites, had It driven 
across the continent, stopping off to drop In on Mr. 
Roosevelt during the Inauguration ceremonies...and 
had It arrive In New York to ballyhoo a picture 
called 42ND STREET" (10). 

The tone of the dialogue In 42ND STREET Is harsh 
and strident. Ginger Rogers plays "Anytime Annie" 
of whom another character says, "She only said No 
once, and then she didn't hear the question." Ruby 
Keeler plays the virginal but (supposedly) talented 
young theater hopeful Peggy Sawyer. When Peggy first 
wanders bewildered backstage a chorus girl asks, 
"Looking for somebody? - or Just shopping around?". 
Later a girl remarks to her, "You can't be only 
elghteeni a girl couldn't get that dumb In only 
eighteen years." 

Warner Baxter plays Marsh, a director of musi¬ 
cals who has lost his money In the Stock Market, Is 
weakened by 111 health, and stakes his life on the 
success of one more musical which, If successful, 
will allow him to pay his debts and finally listen 
to his doctors and take a rest. Baxter has the force 
and drive of Cagney, but lacks his overall confi¬ 
dence. He Is the product of the pre-New Deal Image 

he looks more back to 1929 than 
the New Deal. 


One of the differences between their situations Is 
that financing Is a problem for Marsh, but It Is 
really no problem for Kent. Kent's problem Is not 
a general scarcity of funds, but merely the dis¬ 
honesty of his partners who are stealing his share 
of the profits. Marsh, on the other hand, must 
depend on Abner Dillon (Guy Klbbee) to supply the 
backing. And since Dillon Is more Interested In 
chorus girls than in the show, first Bebe Daniels 
and then Ginger Rogers have to play prostitute 
parts In order to keep the play afloat. Obvious¬ 
ly the pre-New Deal financial world Is represented 
as being far more sordid than what was to replace 

At times Marsh sounds like Kent (and Roosevelt). 
When rehearsals are about to begin Marsh gathers 
his cast and tells themi "...you're going to dance 
your feet off...It's going to be the toughest six 
weeks you ever lived through...". Daring the week 
before the show Is to open he tells them, "Now It's 
up to you. Not one of you leaves this stage to¬ 
night until I get what I want." Yet though Baxter 
at times sounds exactly like Cagney, we could never 
Imagine him Jumping on stage and taking over a 
part In his musicali he Is too reserved and self- 
contained. And this is the crucial difference 
between then, 
cessors. Desi 


and bet ween Rooseve lt and his prede- D 
lte his being clearly the boss, C ag- g 


23 




B ean give the Impression that he Is one of the 
mon people. Baxter Is always apart. He Is an 
Isolated Individualt In a way the last of the 
Franklin-Alger line. He tells others what to dot 

C 


POOTLIGHT PARADE Is completely In keeping with Its 
spirit. Cagney belongs on stage with everyone else, 
each contributing what he can to the collective 
effort. Significantly, and again properly, 42ND 
STREET ends not with the success on stage, but with 
a short scene with Harsh exhausted and alone sitting 
on an Iron fire-escape In an alley outside the the¬ 
ater listening to passersby dismiss his contribu¬ 
tion while praising his play. His last words, and 
the last words In the film, are Marsh's weary and 
cynical, "Just smother show.". In effect, nothing 
has changed. There'll be the alternation of success 
and failure, boom and busjt for eternity. This atti¬ 
tude was changed, for a time at least, by the New 
Deal, and we have seen the effect of that change In 
POOTLIGHT PARADE. 

As was mentioned earlier, the later Warners 
musicals such as GOLD-DIGGERS OP 1937 and GOLD- 
DIGGERS IN PARIS cure tired reworklngs of a worn-out 
formula. From the hopeful, If frenzied, drama of 
the early 1930s the films degenerate until we reach 
the wooden pseudo-sophistication of Rudy Vallee In 
1938. But even In 1933. though more often In 1934, 
Warners produced weaker musicals. Generally, as 
has been noted, the weaker films lacked a strong 
male lead. Another difference between the best 
musicals (42 ND S TREET and POOTLIGHT PARADE) and 
the lesser ones (GOLD-DIGGERS OF 1933 and DAMES) 

Is that In the latter the success of the show- 
wlthin-the-fllm Is not really a necessity. In 
both of the latter films Dick Powell wants to get 
Into "show business." He Is an amateur seeking 
amusement. Cagney and Baxter, on the other hand, 
play professionals whose lives depend on success. 
They are like Indians hunting for food compared to 
rich sportsmen shooting pheasant for pleasure. 
Another factor, perhaps the causal one. Is that by 
mld-1934 the Ideals which Inspired the earlier films 
seem to have hardened Into Ideology. In DAMES, for 
example, Horace Hemingway (Guy Klbbee) Is a comfor¬ 
tably wealthy man who wants to be a millionaire. On 
a train returning to New York from Buffalo he finds 
a woman (Joan Blondell) In his compartment and asks 
the conductor for another one, to which the conduc¬ 
tor replies, "Sorry, sir - we're all filled up. 

NRA's good for business." How pallid Is this obei¬ 
sance to the New Deal compared to the triumphant 
end of POOTLIGHT PARADEI 

An exception to the generalization that the War¬ 
ners musical declined after 1933 Is the Busby 
Berkeley-directed GOLD-DIGGERS OF 1935. But In 
many ways this film Is different from the others 
In the genre to which It ostensibly belongs. The 
whole film takes place In a fantasy world quite 
different from the fevered urban settings of 42ND 
STREET and POOTLIGHT PARADE. GOLD-DIGGERS OF 1935 
Is set In a resort hotel. Also there Is an ease 
about the production of the show-wlthln-the-fllm 
4 which contrasts sharply with the frantic prepara¬ 
tions of the earlier films. Here the production 


Is the charity whi m of an eccentric, r ich widow. H 
Nothing In particular Is dependent bn the success | 
of the show, and little Is made of Its preparation 
aside from some Jack Benny-llke Jokes about the 
thrlftlness of the old dowager. In this film 
either everyone has enough money, or lives as If 
he did. Some people, such as Nlcollf (Adolphe 
Menjou), the show's director, complain, but we see 
no evidence of their shortage of funds. 

Success In this film Is based on marrying some¬ 
one who has moneyi not struggling and learning to 
dance, or whatever, and hoping for the lucky break 
which will lead to success. This fantasy of waking 
up one day to suddenly find wealth Is the opposite 
extreme from the Calvlnlst-collectlve ethos of 
42ND STREET and POOTLIGHT PARADE. It has more In 
common with fairy tales (such as Cinderella or Sleep¬ 
ing Beauty) than Ben Franklin or Horatio Alger. T *' 
myth of success finds no reflection In the Ruby 
Keele r hero ine (Keeler Is absent from this film). 

Ruby Keeler succeeds (with luck as when the star 
breaks her ankle and she takes over), but she re¬ 
hearses and works like hell to do It. While It's 
true that many people work like hell and don't suc¬ 
ceed, It's another order of fantasy to have success 
be the result of no effort at all, as It Is In GOLD- 
DIGGERS OF 1935. 

Berkeley prepares the audience for this kind of 
fantasy at the very beginning of the film. After 
the titles we fade-in to a close-up of a glossy 
magazine In the style of Vanity Fair being held open 
by Jeweled, manicured hands to an advertisement for 
the Wentworth-Plaza Hotel. From the magazine pic¬ 
ture of the hotel doorway we wipe to the real door¬ 
way. Thus the whole film Is enclosed In a briefly 
established, but significant, story-book framework. 
The frame advises the audience that what It Is about 
to see Is fantasy 1 there's no reason to get upset or 
to take anything too seriously. This atmosphere con¬ 
trasts sharply with the tension propelling many of 
the earlier musicals - 42ND STREET, FOOTLIGHT PARADE 
and to a lesser extent even GOLD-DIGGERS OF 1933. In 
these films, though we know the hero will succeed, 
there Is established a realistic alternative to suc¬ 
cess. There Is no such alternative In GOLD-DIGGERS 


OF 1935. 

Perhaps paradoxically, while GOLD-DIGGERS OF 1^3 L 
Is more of a fantasy than the earlier musicals. It 
also assumes a greater cynicism. This cynical tone 
Is established In the first dialogue scene In the 
movie. After a meeting of the hotel's personnel 
they break up Into groups and we cut to each group 
In turn. The head bellhop Is telling the other bell 
hops, "Remember this, guys 1 whatever the guest tips 
you, I get fifty per cent...". The Maltre d'Hotel Is 
telling the waiters , "But remember, I get my percen- 
tage - otherwise -". The head barman Is warning the 
bartenders, "...the tips are spilt even except In 
special cases when I take two-thirds." Actually the 
relationship between this awareness of the cynicism 
of the real world, and the fantasy Is more causal 
than paradoxical. In such a world fantasy Is the 
only Imagined means of success. Obviously this 
again contrasts with the earlier films where hard 
work, collective effort and skilled direction were 
shown to be the means to success. 

The shift from an Idealistic-collective ethos to 
a cynical or at best amoral attitude can be seen 
also In the attitude toward money displayed In the 
films. The economic problem common to most musicals 
Is distribution of money. Always there Is someone 
who has money, and the problem Is to get him to do 
something socially useful with his money. In the 
context of the films this something "socially useful" 
Is of course to back the sho w th e hero wants to put 
on. The change from the Idealism of 1933 to the 
cynicism of 1934 can be seen In the contrasting 
roles played by Joan Blondell In FOOTLIGHT PARADE 
and DAMES. In FOOTLIGHT PARADE Blondell Is the de- 
l?c e noo e S reta r y of 3he * et8 « check for 

$25,000 from his two partners by threatening to 
reveal their dishonest bookkeeping, she then turns 
the check over to Cagney who needs the money to 
get his shrewish wife to grant him a divorce. Whe- 
Blondell wants money In DAMES (this time for Dick 
!° f We “ *° a sho "> she sneaks Into the house 

hf lt w H ° r ^°fu Hemln,r> " ly (Cuy Klbbee), lies 
town In his bed and threatens to scream and thus 
ruin his career and marriage if he refuses Hat- 

chec* for $20 000. The contr^st ls o^lous ^d ‘ 
typical. Gold-digging exists In the earlier films 






r ; It Is practised by ninor characters who are shown 
a bad light. If It Is done by a likable char¬ 
acter such as Bebe Daniels In 42ND STREET she hates 
what she has to do. Hiss Daniels finally refuses to 
lead on a rich old nan any more and chooses to be 
poorer but honest. By 193** the Warners musicals view 
blackmail and prostitution (the essences of "gold- 
digging") amorally. 

A generally Idealistic attitude towards the redis¬ 
tribution of capital Is seen In 42ND STREET and GOLD- 
DIGGERS OP 1933 as well as FOOTLIGHT PARADE. In 42ND 
STREET the old, rich Abner Dillon has money, but his 
money Is doing nothing. Karsh has the talent to use 
his money to provide entertainment for an audience 
and Jobs for a cast and crew of two hundred while 
making him a profit. In GOLD-DIGGERS OF 1933 It Is 
emphasized that Brad (Dick Powell) Is doing a good 
thing In rutting up the 115,000 for the show because 
It will provide so many people with Jobs. This point 
Is made even In DAMES. Horace (Klbbee) has been 
blackmailed by Joan Blondell Into backing Jimmie’s 
show. Horace wants to stop the show and snarls at 
Jimmie (Dick Powell)i "You scoundrel - It’s my 
money." Jimmie responds, "It was your money...and 
you've put a lot of people to work with It...you're 
a credit to your country." The Implication for the 
American capitalist Is quite clean he can be useful, 
but only If he does what the director (Cagney, Baxter, 
Roosevelt) wants him to do. 

It Is a critical commonplace to refer to the 1930s 
musical as "escapist." Andrew Sarrls echoes this 
received wisdom In his The American Cinema i "Berke¬ 
ley's vitality and Ingenuity transcended the limits 
of his sensibility and he bequeathed to posterity 
an entertaining record of the audacity of an escap¬ 
ist era." (11). In July 1933. Cy Caldwell writing In 
New Outlook complained that GOLD-DIGGERS OF 1933 


wasn't escapist enoughi 

This laugh-filled, heart-warming musical 
comedy romance would be thoroughly delightful 
from beginning to end If the producers had 
thrown away the last reel, which unwinds the woes 
and tribulations of "My Forgotten Man," who 
went to the war and then to seed, causing untold 
anguish to the lady who sang of his troubles, 
while we were treated to flash-backs of marching 
soldiers, wounded soldiers and discharged sol¬ 
diers who slept In doorways and retrieved cigar¬ 
ette butts. A veteran myself, I can take most 
war films cheerfully on the chin, but I want 
none of them In musical comedies, where they 
certainly do not belong. For downright offensive¬ 
ness and bad taste, that last reel wins the 
Croix de Garbage...(12) 

It seems both critics misjudge musicals because thev 
are fundamentally mistaken about their nature. Even 
though the concept of "escapism" Is vague, we can 
probably say that It Is not very relevant to a dis¬ 
cussion of these Warners musicals. The terms Ideal¬ 
istic, political, and ritualistic are far more rele¬ 
vant. Or, to put It another way. If Mickey Mouse 
cartoons are "escapist" and the ritual of the Mass 
Is "escapist," musicals have much more In common 
with the escapism of the latter than that of the 
former. 

But rather than being "escapist" In any sense It 
seems to me that the great Warners musicals are 
essentially political. Basic to the collectivist 
nature of these musicals is their ritualized form. 

The quintessential symbol Is the Berkeley dance 
number. The urge of the dances and the films Is 
towards cooperation and collective effort. Indi¬ 
vidually, Berkeley's dancers would amount to little. 
When, as he occasionally does, Berkeley Isolates 
chorus girls with the camera, or has their faces 
follow each other filling the screen, the dances 
are least effective and border on being foolish. 

_But when he has them working together each atomic 
unit contributes to an effect larger than perhaps 
any of them could Imagine. As has been Indicated, 
we need not search far for the political sources 
and Implications of this idea. Roosevelt had recent¬ 
ly created a new spirit If not a new reality. He 
cared about the "little man." No matter how minor 
his part everyone had something to contribute. 
Roosevelt was a kind of political Busby Berkeleyi 
or Berkeley was the terpslchorean metamorphosis of 
Roosevelt. The "little man" could trust Roosevelt 
as the Individual chorus girl could trust Berkeley 

L see that their effort was not wasted, to see that 
ch had his part, to play. It takes only a little 


Imagination to see Berkeley's stars and flowers and 
circles (photographed from above) as symbols of an •* 
harmonious nation. Not of course the nation as It 
was In 1933, but the nation as millions believed and 
millions more hoped It could be. 

The Image of a political leader as a large-scale 
Busby Berkeley Is certainly ambiguous. The thrust 
of such an Image Is undoubtedly toward collective 
effort and subjugation of the will of the Indivi¬ 
dual to the overall pattern dictated by the leader. 

But does this Imply the Ideal represented for Ruskln 
by the Kiddle Ages, or a socialist-communist Ideal, 
or a Hitler-Franco type fascist dictatorship? I'm 
not sure how to answer this. Perhaps there Is no one 
answer. In any event the temper of America In early 
1933 as reflected In the Warners musical was undoubt¬ 
edly towards some kind of collectivism. Some Import¬ 
ant American political figures, speaking between 
Roosevelt's election and Inauguration support this 
conclusion. Alfred E. Smith's Implication Is clear 
enoughi "In this depression we are In a state of war. 
The only thing to do now Is to lay aside statutes, 
and do what a Democracy must do when It fights." (13) 
At the same time Norman Thomas warned, "The cry will 
go up for a dictator. He will be of the demagogue 
type and he will speak with the voice of Huey Long." 
(14) Perhaps If Roosevelt had been a Hitler or 
Stalin he could have had the blessing of the majority 
In the United States. As we know, he was neither, 
and as we also know the Warners musical film was an 
ephemeral phenomenon - spawned during the Presidential 
campaign of 1932 and, In Its full vitality, not out¬ 
lasting the next year. 


Footnotes 


1. Jack Salzman ed. Years of Protest . New York, 196?. 
p.84. 

2. Ibid , p.10. 

3. Ibid , p.12. 

4. Literary Digest . CXVI (July 1, 1933). P.5. 

5. Douglas Newton, "Poetry In Fast and Musical 
Motion," Sight and Sound XXII (July-September, 1952). 
P.36. 

6. Ibid . 

7. Cy Caldwell, "To See or Not to See," New Outlook 
CLXII (November 1933). P-43. 

8. Newton, op.clt . p.35. 

9. John Baxter, Hollywood In the Thirties . London and 
New York, 1968. p.62. 

*" "Screen," Newsweek I (February 17, 1933). p.28. 


11. Andrew Sarrls, The American Clm 


. New York, 1968. 


> See," J 


12. Cy Caldwell, "To See oi 
CLXII (July 1933). P.43. 

13. Newsweek I (February 17, 1033). p.5, 

14. Ibid . 


25 
















AS A PROBE EPIC, Rafael Sabatlnl's famous novel, 

Captain Blood—His Odyssey , belongs to what must 
be the oldest tradition In literature. It Is a 
tradition that has survived a transformation In 
form from oral tales, to oral poetry, to written 
poetry, to the theatre, to the novel, and finally, 
to the motion picture. While the form of the epic 
tale has changed radically over the centuries, Its 
content has remained essentially the sane with re¬ 
curring situations and themes, basically, the hero 
must have a worthy goal—usually one that Involves 
the well-being of whatever nation he represents. 

Thus the character of Peter 31ood would not qualify 
as a true epic hero If he were Just a "thief and 
pirate” and not an escaped slave seeking revenge 
against a cruel and unjust society personified by 
King James, Lord Jeffreys, Governor Steed and 
Colonel 31 shop (the futility of armed rebellion 
Is proved to 31ood and the others at the begin¬ 
ning of the story). 

In the epic tale, the hero usually functions as 
the leader of a band of men dedicated to the same 
goals, yet somehow Isolated from the rest of society. 
Many tines the leader and his men are forced to 
battle a series of villains In a distant, exotic 
land. In Captain blood , the plra"e crewi 
are not only revolutionary outcasts, out they are 
separated from their native land by the tradl- 
tlonal "wine-dark sea.” out Blood's situation Is 
nore tragic than heroic because he, unlike the others, 
did not choose to go on an eolc auer‘ and >a , ' 

"net, unjustly accused - ■ 

rebellion of which the others are ullty. 

Indeed, thf theme of Certain jlood might be 
seen as the evolution of a hit will 

and Intentions, Into a leader or true heroic Pro¬ 
portions. In the berlnnlnr of the story, he has 
divorced himself from the problems of nls society, 
he refuses to take part in the revolution, claiming 
he has already had enough adventure to Ins" him 
several lifetimes. As a doctor, Blood feels he 
should be exempt from making moral Judgementsi but 
^following this humanistic nollcv causes him to be 
► arrested for treating wounded rebels and tried for 
^ 2ft 


treason* v 

Of course, flood's own personality Is partially 
responsible for his continued difficulties as 
nearness to any authority figure brings forth his 
responsible for his continued difficulties, as 
nearness to any authority figure brings forth 
his Irish tenner and essential Impertinence. 

Blood's role as a revolutionary leader will be some¬ 
what elaborated later, but for now we should remembe 
that questions concerning the rights and obligations 
of authority were prevalent during the early Thir¬ 
ties as several films of the period seem to reflect. 
Many people felt that _a_ revolution was Imminent 
(Harry Warner decided to become a Democrat and back 
Roosevelt In the election of 1932 because he feared 
that possibility). For Blood and his crew, the 
result of their revolt Is Isolation, but only 
Blood fully feels the desperation of being a man 
without a country (as does Fletcher Christian In 
Vue jount.v ). It Is this sense of futi- 
ssoalr, In addition to his rejection oy 
Arabella, that causes him to alienate himself t 


s course for 


11 ty « 

Arnbel 
from Y 

Port Royal where a gallows waits for t 

Perhaps Sabatlnl revealed that he was himself 
aware of the epic tradition to which the novel be- 
loncs when he gave Blood the rather self-conscious 
line In reference to the canture of the Spanish 
shim "Heroic, Is It? 3edad It's eplcl". It should 
not be forgotten, however, that the novel belongs 
to a much nore recent tradition of literature—the 
popular historical romance, a genre that found Its 
origin In the adventure stories of Sir Walter Scott, 
Alexandre Dumas, and Robert Louis Stevenson. These 
and many other writers have continued to fulfil a 
seemingly Inherent desire in mankind for fantasy 
adventures In a mythical past. But In certain 
periods this desire becomes more apparent. One 
such period followed the First World War with the 
tremendous popularity of such novels as The Dark 
-rlrate by Charles 3oardnan lawes, Mutiny on the 
Bounty by Charles - • - 


Cordhuff and Janes "orman Rail, 
s three best.-selllng S=batlnl novels Scara - 
nouche . he Sen rtnwk . and Captain Blood . 


J 


26 














I As it Incorporated all the essential In redlents 
for a’ historical romance, Including a touc.hln- love 
story and an abundance of excitin', action, Car.taln 
blood quickly became a success In both England and 
America when It was published in 1922. :ne next 
year, hoping to pro^i* from tots popularity, the 
Vltapranh film conmany purchased the notion picture 
rights fron Babatlnl for 520,000. This was quite a 
large sun to nay for a flln property at that time 
.and It nay not. have nroved to be a wise investment. 
Vlta-Taih had taken out a loan for 5150,000 to 
produce CATTAlt' 3L00D and within one month o f its 
release it had only taken in tP-1,622. That sa-e 
year the company was acquired by Warner Brothers. 
Then in 1930, Varners renegotiated with Sabatlnl 
for the screen rlrhts of the novel. The amount 
mreed upon was 510,000. Since It was not like the 
notoriously tl~ht-flsted Varners to throw money 
around, one can onlv assume that they -..ere interes¬ 
ted In producing a remake five years before this 
was actually done. 

In order to analyse the reasons for the pro¬ 
duction of the 1935 CAFTAIN 3L00D and Its resulting 
ronular success, It, Is necessary to briefly examine 
the hlstorv or the adventure menre. The first 
screen version of CATTAIN 3L00D (1924) was released 
nurlnr the first major cycle of the genre, which 
had been started by Douglas Fairbanks with THE 
"A k OF ZORRO In 1920. Seeing that post-war 
audiences responded as enthusiastically to filmed 
adventure as they did to the popular adventure 
novels, Fairbanks switched from his old role of 
the hanpy-go-lucky all-American boy to become a 
full-time swashbuckler In elaborate versions of 
T IE THREE :"T3K2TESHS, THE THIEF 0? 3 AC DAD, H03I'.: 
HOOD, and THE BLACK FI RATE. Naturally, other 
producers followed this profitable trend and the 
early Twenties saw a plethora of costume pictures 
Including THE COUNT OF MONTS CRISffO, VO HAVE 
AND TO HOLD, "Hi FF.ISONEH OF ZEKDA, OF;PHANS OF THE 
, ! 0.-.-A DO ONE, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTES DANE, 
HONSIEUR BEAUCAIrtE, AMERICA, DOrtOTHY VERNON OF 
riADDON HALL, BEAU BRUMMEL, THE EAGLE, BEAU GESTE, 

THE SHEIK and THE SON OF THE SHEIK. BEN HUH, THE 
EAGLE OF THE SEA, DON JUAN and two other versions 
of Sabatlnl novels, SCAhAMOUCHE and THE SEA HANK. 

After 1926 the adventure film vogue faded as 
more realistic stories In a contemporary setting 
became popular. This trend was reinforced by the 
Depression and usually took the form of the gang¬ 
ster film and the confession film, both of which 
emphasized sex and violence as well as Implied cri¬ 
ticism of contemporary society. At the same time, 
the need for fantasy-escape was fulfilled by the 
now classic horror films like DhACJLA and FRANKEN¬ 
STEIN, by Westerns, and by exotic romances such as 
SHANGHAI EXPhEss and THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL TEN. 
with the sometimes remarkable frankness of films 
in tills period, it Is not surprising that Hollywood 
suffered Increasing attacks from "civic groups" 
like the American Legion and the Legion of Decency. 
Hot totally unreasonably, these organizations felt 
that_ American films were glorifying the gangster, 
the crooked politician, and the prostitute. The 
well-known result was the Motion Picture Produc¬ 
tion Code of 1935 which not only prohibited any 
overt sex or unnecessary violence In film content, 
but also any criticism of American morals or values. 
Thus it became apparent to many producers that In 
order to make films with any bite, they were going 
to have to turn to the relative safety of the his¬ 
torical past. 

The new production code, however, was not solely 
responslole for the shift away from contemporary, 
"realistic” stories. The box office success In 
1533 of LITTLE WOKEii, i HE PRIVATE LIFE 0? HENnT 
VIII and QUEEN CHRISTINA showed the studios that 
American audiences were again willing to accept 
period costtime dramas. Perhaps it had become un¬ 
pleasant or even boring for Depression audiences 
to see the worst aspects of their own time depicted 
on the screen. Perhaps their need for fantasy- 
escape was not being adequately fulfilled oy horror 
films. Whatever the exact reasons, the time seemed 
appropriate for something different. Significantly, 
the rise of the costume-adventure genre coincided 
wltn n decrease in the popularity of the horror film. 
Indeed, CAPTAIN 3L00D, with Its hangings, saclstlc 
tortures, brandings and whippings must have exerted 
.much the same appeal as similar aspects In horror 
'films. _ 


.he new cycle of bi t --uuget period , 1 lias that wa^"5 
to emerge In 1934 and 1935 was to last for several | 
yea:si in fact, not until after the beginning of 
the Second world .tar did such fllias seen to decline 
In popularity, while it would be nearly Impossible 
to list all of tne pictures that fit Into this cate¬ 
gory, an idea of tne s cope of this trend nay be 
riven by the Initial responses of the various studlosi 
Universal—ONLY YaEiEnDAY and THE MISTER* OF EDWIN 
DROODi KKO—THE THREE MUSKETEERS| Korda—THE PRI¬ 
VATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII, CATHERINE THE GREAT, 7 HE 
PRIVATE LIFE OF DON JUAN (with Douglas F-lrbarws), 

:HE SCARLET rli.PEhi'EL, and oANDEws OP .HE RIVERt 
20th Century—i he HOUSE Or ROTHSCHILD, CLIVE OF 
INDIA, LEs HISEuABLES and THE ArFAIhS 0? CELLINIi 
Columbia—CRIME AND FUNISHKEK'Ti Paramount—CLEOPATRA, 
THE SCARLE1 EMFnEoo, THE ChUoADEs, LIVES OF A BENGAL 
LANCEn and rETEn last .'SON I M-G-K—r HE BARRETTS OF 
WIMFOLE STREET , DAVID COFPERFIELb, ANNA jv Art ENIN A 
and HUiINY ON iHE aOUNlYj and Warners—MADAME 
DUBArirtY ana CAPTAIN BLOOD. 

In January of 1535, the motion picture trade 
journal. Variety , cairiec an article predicting 
tne decline of tne "costume cycle" because. It 
claimed, tne exhibitors were "chill on biography 
pictures." Ihe reason for this, the article dis¬ 
closed, was not because patrons didn’t like histo¬ 
rical novles but because such fllns were usually 
longer In running time and reduced the number of 
showings that could be scheduled each day. The 
article also correctly analysed that the reason 
...for this larre number of costume-biographical 
pictures this season is that the flies of history 
yielded considerable material with which the 
Industry would be taking a lesser chance of of¬ 
fending the Church and other busybody factions 
from a censoring standpoint. It was considered 
that anythin- modern. Including tne play, novel 
and_short story field would offer something too 
dangerous in either material or Interpretation 
of it to honestly reflect the tines and the 
-reser.*- theme of literature and thought.Jl) 

CATTAIL 3L0CD Is a oerrect example of the safety 
and r reeior allowed by a period settln-. Its story, 
with justified revolutions, unjust courts, corrupt 
officials, cruel punishments and slavery, would 
neve- have boon tolerated in a co-'-e-porary set¬ 
ting. Interestingly, these thenes -ur. through all 
of the Flynn-Curtiz adventure fllns, ever, to some 
extent "S3 CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, which 
Justifies Insubordination, but especially in THE 
AD7E:" t ”.SS OF HOBIT HOOD. The Inace of an Innocent 
Individual in front of an unjust and corrupt court 
occurs In CAPTAIN BLOOD with Blood before Lord 
Jeffries and iuttall before Governor Steed, In THE 
ADVENTURES C» 303IN HOOD with Robin before Sir Guy 
of Gisbourne and "aid iarlan before Prince John, In 
.HE PRIVATE LIVEo C* ELIZABETH AND ESSEX with Essex 
before Elizabeth, and in .HE SEA HAWK with Thorpe 
before the j parish Inquisition. It also seems 
that a period setting afforded greater freedom with 
a film’s sexual content as Is shown by the presence 
of obvious prostitutes In CAPTAIN BLOOD. 

Early In 1-35. while over fifty of what were 
considered antl-Plcture bills were being Intro¬ 
duced Into the House o'" Representatives, Para¬ 
mount was taklno In record box-office receipts with 
its LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER. ~hus, it Is not 
-ururislng that other studios soueht to avoid con¬ 
troversy and make profits at the same time by fol- 
lowlng this example. "-G-N announced that they 
•were about to start a major production of MUTINY 
FT .' II B0 ""’"S with Clark Gable and Charles Laughton. 

Like TAT AIN .-ICCD, It had as Its central theme a 
Justified revolt against authority that is followed 
by a total alienation from society which could only 
be resolved by a reaffirmation o'" authority. Varner 
brothers responded with an "answer" of their own. 

Cn March 6, 1935. they announced tint budget .al¬ 
lowances would allow them to "spree" to the amount 
of :?50,000 on a new production of iabatinl’s 
" Mlii :lon-: to star English actor Robert Donat. 

Even before this announcement was made, c-sey Robin¬ 
son had already '"lnlshed an excellent script from 
the novel, and it had been decided that Harry Joe 
-.-own would produce the film and "'chael Curtiz 
would di-ect it. 


By Arril 2, the sets for 
pad already been constructed 
only Players definitely cast 
ead and an unknown English 1 


sallir.r vessels 
ita-e 7, but th< 
-e Donat for the 
>rt, Errol nynn, 








r a minor role, in comparison to nost other 

ler films, CAFTAI1’ BLOOD was to be £ Tiu, e pro¬ 
duction, and on April 9 it was announced that its 
new budget would ■'•each a nllllon dollars. however, 
the always econor.y--'lnded studio was r.ot in favor 
of building real shins as R-O-M was doln.- for . : 

C. T-5-: BOUNTY. he Uurner executives felt that 
•’ull-scale ships were not only too expensive to 
aulld, but also too derendent on weather conditions. 
It was therefore decided that all of the shooting 
done with ships would be with the use 0" nodels. 



stock footave, and partial nock-uns built inside 
the sound stares. In 1939, Earners attempted to 
further solve this oroblem by the construction of 
a riant Indoor wa ! er tank capable of holding full- 
scale ships. It was built for the last swashbuckler 
Curtiz and T.ynn did torether, THE BEA HAWK. 

While these elaborate preparations were underway, 
CAPTAIN BLOOD was having serious casting difficul¬ 
ties. Donat had been signed for the role of Peter 
ulood "on the strength of a superlative performance 
in 1HE KAN IX TEE I .0:. FABK," (2) but contract 
"misunderstandings" forced Jack Warner to look for 
a replacement. Warner, Irvir.r Asher (manning direc¬ 
tor of Warner brothers in England 1 and Errol Flynn 
all tell slightly conflicting stories concerning 
Flynn's "discovery." It is established, however, 
that he was brought to Hollywood in early 1935 under 
contract to Warners for tl50 a week. Els first 
American film, in which he had no dialogue, was 
directed by Klchael Curtiz, under whom he would 
act in eleven more filns before the incompatibility 
of their personalities would separate their careers. 

Jack Warner must have been in an adventurous 
mood when castlni- the film. He not only took the 
chance of casting a total unknown as the lead in 
a million dollar production, but he also decided 
that Olivia de -iavilland, who was almost as obscure 
as Flynn, would play the leading female role of 
Arabella Bishop, warner's ganole raid off. Under 
Wurtiz's direction, oot.a Flynn and de Eavllland 
'-laved their parts with freshness and charming sin¬ 
cerity. Bhe was easllv convincing as the spoiled, 
strong-willed Arabella, and =lynn (especially con¬ 
sidering his relative inexperience) did remarkably 
•well in the rather more difficult role of an impu¬ 
dent fatalistic hero. he rest of the cast, Lionel 
Atw111, Basil athbone, loss Alexander, ~j <y i.lbbee, 
and ienrv Bteoher.son, handled their roles with 
••.■’teal professionalism. 

•since the artistic as well as pomlar success 
of CALTAIBLOOD is larrely due to the particular 
talents o' its director, "ichael Curtiz, It Is neces¬ 
sary to understand his contribution in order to 
analyse the workings of the film. Naturally. other 
talented people contributed to the success of the 
film, but it is Curtiz's personality that holds it 
all together and his style that dominates every 
aspect of the picture. 

In the first place, Curtiz's teaoeraner.1 and 
training -v»rfectly suited him to direct such a film 
OS CAFIAI.. bLOC-j. Without o! feeling for and abi¬ 
lity to project the romantic atnosnhere and events 
, 

. 

his co-workers Curtiz may hove seemed insensitive 
and cynical, he revealed his basic sensibility ir. 

<3 

^mentality, tortured heroes, s-'-arlc villains, and 


lvric love scenes in almost all o'" his films. 

Curtiz saw drama essentially as a conflict of emo¬ 
tions (although his films o"ten deal with conflicts 
of moral attlt”des) and he had the knack, bo- out 
of year3 of experience, to make audiences experience 
these emotions. All of his technical proficiency 
served the single r unctlonal purpose of lnvolvln t.ie 
audience in the action on the screen. Ihus Za: a: 
BLOOD with its violent emotions anc general romantic 
theme of a man against society was perfectly com¬ 
patible with Curtiz's personality and his particular 
. 

The film was also suited for Curtiz because of 
a •alent he displayed throughout his career for 
excltin , sweeping action. Curtiz's flair for 
starin fights, battles and disasters had ueer. demon¬ 
strated In some of his blgrest Eurooean successes 
such as bCDC' A; L 90!:0: .-.AH (1922) and I'OOF CP 
I5FAEL (192K). in fact, it was because thev were 
so impressed with this last film (especially the 
photography) that the Warner brothers brought 
Curtiz to Amerlcain 1926. Eowever, his chance to 
direct n spectacle film did not cone until 1929 
: production of 

.ch, despite beautiful handling, was 
a financial failure. Curtiz would not get another 
chance to direct an expensive action picture until 
the rebirth of the adventure genre and the studio's 
decision to remake CAPTAIX BLOOD, which, w] 
bombardments, sen battles, duels and general melees, 
gave him the perfect opportunity to utilize that 
aspect of his talert. 

CAITAIX BLOOD also displays the other aspects of 
Curtiz's talent Including, of course, his remarkable 
and easilv n-porent visual style. With a die 
personality, Curtiz controlled the contributions 
of his various collaborators and especially those 
° r his cameramen. To determine this, another 
researcher, on J llnn, and I interviewed several 
clnenatorraoners (Charles kosher, hay F.ennahon, 

James ..on- Xowe, led FcCord, and the two who did 
the photography for CAPTAIN BLCOD, Hal Mohr and 
Ernest Bailer) who worked with Curtiz, while some 
of them did not exactly love Curtiz, all admitted 
that he took particular care over the angle, compo¬ 
sition, lighting, and often movement, of each shot 
Hal Rohr called Curtiz a "finder director" (meaning 


viewfinder to compose his shots). 

Although Curtiz's compositions, with his charac- 

...... .... Qf shadows and skUful p i acenent of 

depth to the two-dimensional 


teristi 

foreground objects to add 

image. Is always Pleasing to the eye, an examination 
of any of his films shows that his goals went beyond 
a striving for pictorial beauty. As a shot, analysis 
of CAPTAIX BLOOD demonstrates, Curtiz always knew 
exactly how far from the action, and at what angle, 
to place the camera to achieve the maximum emotional 
Identification from his audience. A slnnle example 
01 this can oe seen In the courtroom scene between 
Blood and Chle" Justice Jeffreys where the camera 
cuts successively closer to each character as thev 
become more and more angry until Jeffreys collapses 
acalnst the back of a bench in exhaustion. Curtiz 
also loved to move the camera if there was a "ir- 
ratlve Justification. This can be seen in the ome¬ 
ning shot of the courtroom scene where the camera 
cranes down past the Hoyal Seal of King James, 
through the door of the courtroom, past several 
uards and up to the clerk who is reading tne 
charges against the rebel prisoners. This is im¬ 
mediately followed by a shot that dollies past the 
clerk in the opposite direction towards the pri¬ 
soners -here jlood is revealed standing in the 

I'ot all of Curtiz's camera movements are so ap¬ 
parent. Cften_he would use a short dolly-ln on 
a character to ervwsize an emotion or a line of 
dlalo—ie, .and usually this - oula be so well inte¬ 
grated with the action a c to be barely noticeable 
(as opposed to the si -liar use of a zoom s-iot). 

Cne of Curtiz's most subtle uses of camera movement 
anc : s 1- CA’ AT: BIC0- during the scene 1 
' 




; impn 


ssloi 


' Ttiz -.as able to 
md excitement int< 
i lesser director < 


— — - . ... i teohnloiv 

Inject a '’eellns or fluldil 
scenes that lr. the hands t 
ould have been static am' i 


r ithoii •: he seldom entered the cutting room, 

lz also Influenced the editin' of his olctnres 
b- shootln or.lv what he knew would be necessary. 

If an editor put the shots together wrong, Curtiz 
would make him do It again. Nevertheless, credit 

for ;e :'ioothne3s of the narrative flow lr. CA't.AI. 

Amy, » 

with lurtiz for over fifteen years. Any was one ol 
garners tor editors throughout the hlrtles ana 
forties until he left the studio to show C-- tele¬ 
vision low to - 'll film to. ether. A close exa-il na¬ 
tion of CAPTAIN BLOOD reveals the soohlstlcated way 
toy used such common techniques as cutting on 
movement and reaction snots. Often, for exanole, 
ore character will begin speaking while the camera 
Is -ill on another, .hur the canera follows the 
ac '.or. rather than predictin' It. 

All of Curtiz’s films, however, re ardless of 
the editor, nre characterized by mold yet smooth 
padr . -Very thing was designed so that It would 

nove on the screeni which obviously is of prlne 
Importance, esneclally In the staging of an adventure 
movie. o see Curtiz’s sunerlorlty In this resreot. 
It Is only necessary to compare CAPTAI.< BLOOD to 

ion" films as Rowland V. Lee’s THREE 



■ rvyn Lehoy’s ANTHONY ADVERSE (Warners 
follow-un to C AFT All! BLOOD with none of its prede¬ 
cessor’s ranache). 

Cf course, all of Curtiz’s technical expertise 
would never have had a chance to develop. If he had 
been unable to draw believable and moving perfor¬ 
mances from his actors. Fortunately, Curtiz could, 
as the uniformly excellent playing in CAPTAIN BLOOD 
proves. verhaps because he was a frustrated actor 
hlnself, Curtiz was very contemptuous of "unreal" 
acting. He could at times employ almost brutal 
methods, esneclally If he felt that an actor was not 
devotln- as much energy and concentration to the film 
as he was. Still, Curtiz’s methods often worked, 
besnite Lynn’s obvious physical Ability and hand¬ 
some features, his acting ability at the beginning 
of CAFTAIV BLOOD was quite weak. Under Curtiz's 
direction, Flynn Improved so much that the fir st 
two weeks’ footare was reshot. Naturally, the 
fun-lovlnr Flynn resented Curtiz and later said 
In his autobiographyi "The direction of CAPTAIN 
BLOOD was assigned to Michael Curtiz. I was to spend 
five (sic) miserable years with him making ROBIN 
HOOD, CHAGE OF TIE LIGHT 3RIGADE and many other 
films. In each he tried to make all scenes so rea¬ 
listic that ny skin didn't seen to matter to him. 
Nothing dell~hteJ him more than real bloodshed." (3) 
It Is true that at times Curtiz did seem Imper¬ 
vious to his actors’ safety, as an episode related 
by cameraman Hal Mohr demonstrates. While shooting 
the duel between Flynn and Basil Rathbone, Curtiz 
became concerned about the protective buttons on the 
tips of the fencing foils. He was afraid they would 
be picked up by the camera and thus render the scene 
unconvincing. Consequently, he had the buttons 
broken off, leaving a sharp. Jagged point at the tip 
of each foil. Against Mohr's advice, both Flynn and 
Rathbone agreed to continue with the duel which was 
made especially dangerous because It was to be fought 
on a beach with sand, water and sl ippery rocks under¬ 
foot. Perhaps due to the training they received 
from fencing master Fred Cavens, the two actors 
managed not to kill each other while still looking 
were trying to do, 
out In four placesi 
the right eye, on the 


Although Curtiz made the later 
in THE ADVENTURES OP ROBIN HOOD an 
more elaborate than this one, the y 
overblown In comparison. The rela 
forward duel In CAPTAIN BLOOD has 
mous shadows cast upon walls or conveniently placed 
props that characterize such later scenes. The 
Image of two equally-matched, agile opponents 
(which scriptwriter Robinson felt was an Innovation 
for the screen) was well realized, and audiences 
found If very exciting. 

The anecdote about the foil tips is significant 
because It Illustrates Curtiz’s Derfectlonlsm and 
his constant, almost obsessive drive for realism, 
which he strove for not only In the staging of 
action scenes, but In every detail of a picture’s 
production. Ironically, however. It Is the obvious 
unreality of certain parts of CAPTAIN BLOOD’S physi¬ 
cal production that Is the film’s chief flaw. The 
use of "studio exteriors" for all scenes aboard 
the ships, on the sugar plantation (which Warners 
claimed In a press release was filmed on location 
at a real sugar plantation near the town of Corona) 
and on the lawn and veranda of the Governor’s man¬ 
sion can never be really convincing regardless of 
how well they are designed and photographed. It 
Is only because of the general credibility of the 
action and the quickness of the pacing that one can 
Ignore this too apparent falseness. (Perhaps War¬ 
ners might be excused for wanting to economize as 
much as possible! the studio had not shown an overall 
profit In the past four years.) The only scenes that 
appear to be shot on actual exterior locations arei 
the duel sequence, which was filmed near Laguna Beachi 
the first love scene between Blood and Arabella, 
which was filmed In Palm Canyon near Palm Springs! 
and most of the footage that takes place In the 
harbor of Port Royal. These scenes are very con- , 
vlnclng, as are. It must be admitted, all of the Fred 
Jackman special effects Including the large minia¬ 
ture built of the town of Port Royal and the eighteen- 
foot long ship models that manoeuvred In the studio ~ 
tank. 

Warners desire to keep costs down Is also 
somewhat evident In the film’s sets, which were 

designed by the studio's chief art director _ _ 

throughout the Thirties, Anton Grot. It Is Grot's 
unglamorous, often grimly realistic style that gives 
so many Warner Brothers films during this period 
their characteristic look. He designed several cre¬ 
ditable, appealing sets for CAPTAIN BLOOD, among the 
most effective of which werei the stockade on the 
sugar plantation with Its enormous water wheels, 
lookout towers, and whipping posti the Interior of 
the slaves' quarters on the plantation—a labyrinth 
of bunk beds and low hanging lampsi the harbor — 
of .Fort Royal with Its arched streets and adobe _ 
bulldlngsi and the tavern room In Tortoga with mas¬ 
sive wooden mouldings and shuttered windows, Por_ 
the large Interior sets such as the English court¬ 
room and Governor Steed's Judgement Hall, Grot was_ 
forced to resort to an expediency that mars almost ~ 
all (excepting ROBIN HOOD) Warners' period films. 
Attention and obviously money went" Into the design 
and construction of such significant details as 
windows, doors and furnishings, while large walls 
are left flat arid bare. There are several examples 
In CAPTAIN BLOOD of attempts by Curtiz to break up 
these uninteresting planes by casting shadows on 
'hem (he was to develop this technique much further 
In his Portles films like CASABLANCA and MILDRED 
PIERCE). 

CAPTAIN BLOOD, like most Hollywood pictures, 
was the result of a cooperative effort. Fortunately, 

Jack Warner £nd producer Harry Joe Brown (who _ 

received no screen credit for the film but shows an 
affinity for action films In the many Westerns he 
has produced Including several Ken Maynard sllents 
and later WESTERN UNION and THE GUNFIGHTEE) were 
able "o achieve the proper combination of talents for 
CAPTAIN BLOOD. In addition to obtaining the right 
cast and the right director, they employed a highly 
skilled scriptwriter In Casey Robinson, who had 
directed a few films and was later to write many 
screenplays for Warners Including five for Curtiz. 

While Sabatlnl's novel with Its emphasis on action 
and dialogue was perfectly suitable film material, 
Robinson's script Is a masterpiece of compression 
and, where needed, elaboration. Naturally, the 
story and the chasacLexs remain basica lly the samei K 
even whole scenes, like the courtroom sequence where g 


8wordplay sequences] 
d THE 5EA HAWK 
do s eem s omewhat 
tlvely stralght- 
none of the enor- 


Mr 

„t. » 


29 



•Blood diagnoses Chief Justice Lord Jeffreys* physical 
•and mental sickness, follow the original very closely. 
Nevertheless, several characters are eliminated en- 
tlrelyi Don Diego's son, Esteban de Esplnosai Henri 
d'Ogeron and his sisteri Don Miguelt and Lord Julian 
Wade among others. Thus the plot became simplified 
and Robinson wa3 able to use a good deal of dialogue 
from excluded sections to expand other situations. 

He also made several of the retained scenes more dra¬ 
matic. For example, by having Arabella enter into 
active bidding for the purchase of Blood as a slave, 
more conflict Is added to the scene as well as more 
quickly establishing Arabella's Impetuous character 
and adding to Blood's resentment. 

Several scenes, not In the novel, have the un- 
mlstakeable Imprint of Curtiz. Some of these were 
obviously Included to add humor to counterbalance 
the at times rather grim action. Examples of this 
arei the black, boy slave who frantically fans the 
Governor whenever he becomes agitated! the scene on 
the pier between the sarcastic Blood and the comic¬ 
ally nervous Nuttall as they conspire to escape! 
and the short bit of business where Hagthorpe 
mockingly Inspects Bishop, examining his teeth and 
punching his stomach, In Imitation of a previous 
Inspection where the roles were reversed. Other 
touches show a typical Curtiz Galgenwltz (gallows 
humor), such as the scene on the night of the planned 
escape which shows Blood trying to sneak away 
from the sleeping Governor who Is prostrate with 
gout. The atmosphere of the sick room Is effectively 
created with the camera slowly panning down to the 
Governor's wig on a wooden head while In the back¬ 
ground we hear the eerie tolling of a clock. Of 
course Steed, a toothless hypochondriac, does wake 
up and demands that Blood stay with him and bleed 
him again. To which Blood replies Ironically, "I'm 
going to have you well by midnight If I have to bleed 
you to death." Steed laughs weakly as the scene 
fades out. 

Curtiz's hand Is also evident In the totally 
visual sequence that depicts the departure of the 
grossly strutting Spanish soldiers from the con¬ 
quered city of Port Royal. Their arms filled with 
captive booty, the Spaniards step callously over 
the dead bodies of their enemiesi they laugh and fire 
their muskets In the air as they pass the ruins of 
a shelled church. In a series of brief Images, 

Curtiz has drawn a likeness of these victorious sol¬ 
diers that provides further Justification for their 
Imminent demise at the hands of Blood and his crew. 

Curtiz was probably also responsible for the 
film's emphasis on the exhlleratlon of the ex¬ 
slaves as they unfurl the sails on their newly- 
acquired ship, and the symbolic contrast of the 
circular movement of the windlass as they raise the 
anchor with the futile circular movement of their 


Another scene sugcestlve of Curtiz's touch Is 
the one which follows the death of Levassler. The 
camera moves back from a close-up of a treasure 
chest filled with gold and Jewels to reveal Blood 
and Arabella sitting In his cabin, each refusing 
to look at the other. As a lanteir hanging from 
the celling swings slowly back and forth, Blood 
T admits, with dialogue that does not appear In the 
^novel, that he became n "thle* - and •> pirate" because 


he wanted revenge. Presumably, this desire Is 
aimed at all human society since he attacks all shlps^ 
regardless of their flag (which reminds us that the 
Tlrate's, like the gangster's, popular appeal Is 
partially based on his anarchistic tendencies). 

But Blood comes to realize the futility of his 
actions, which Is why he Is so embittered when 
Arabella, his only other Justification (he though* 
she would understand and accept his plunder as a 
Cl r t nf lo’'e), rejectr him. 

oes retain the basic trail 

personal it;-—hip fatalism—as well as his nost cha-- 
acteristic linei "Faith It's an uncertain world 
entirely." This aspect of hie character Is enpha- 
plze-* 1 r the film by having Blood return with his 
ship and crew to Port F.oyal where he knows their 
, 

echoes this '‘atallsn with p line of Halo 

to the fllmi "Make speed. There's a gallows waiting 
for all of us and no man should be late to his own 
hanging." 

"h. elerents o r cynicism, fatalism, anatchlsm and 
> evolution cont-tned in GATTAIN BLOOD, while they 
appear also In the novel, must have reflected a "mod 

In America during the Thirties. The theme of Justi¬ 
fiable revolution Is emphasized with similar dialogue 
In CAPTAIN BLOOD and THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD. 

In ‘he former, Arabella (the heroines always seem 
to be members of the social and political est¬ 
ablishment) says, "I believe you're talking treason" 

^ which Blood replies with typical impudence, "I 
hope I'm not obscure." In the later film, Ilald 
Marian says, "You speak treason" to which Robin 
replies, "Fluently," It Is probably also signif¬ 
icant that both films present the optimistic hope 
at their conclusions of a (Iioosevelt-llke?) bene¬ 
volent leader that the discontented rebel can pledge 
his allegiance to. As 31ood says when he hears 
that England has a new kln^i "For me, this changes 
the face of the world." Now he and his crew are 
no longer alienated from the rest of society! they 
are pardoned for their sins, and they have a new 
cause to fight, for. 

The ensuing confrontation between Blood's ship and 
two French ships Is a masterpiece of carefully con¬ 
structed excitement. It shows a clever combination 
of a quite lavish production and stock footage, which 
Is, unfortunately, at least a hundred years out of 
period. Naturally this spectacle called for a 
large cast of extras and stunt men (who received 
salaries ranging from the five dollars per day paid 
the "mob scene" extra, the fifteen dollars per day 
paid the dress extra to the twenty-five and up paid 
the stunt men). An average of four hundred extras 
were used dally. Serious attention was paid to the 
casting of even these roles and Curtiz personally 
Interviewed 2,500 applicants for roles as pirates 
(one who received a part was ex-Olympic champion 
Jim Thorpe, about whon Curtiz would direct a movie 
many years later). Approximately a fourth of the 
ac*or? Involved were Injured one way or another, 
several were burned slightly and more than a dozen 
rubbed their hands raw on the swinging ropes. Two 
received sprained ankles, but fortunately no one 
was killed or permanently injured. 

Attention was also paid to the physical acces¬ 
sories such as the veritable arsenal of period 
weapons that had to be constructed. The studio 
rrop department hod to supply JO cannons, 400 cap 
and ball pistols, 400 flintlock muskets, 350 powde- 
horns, r o powder barrels, 350 cutlasses, 200 cane 
knives and 300 daggers. For the sake of realism, 

Curtiz denanded that the cannons be actually able 

btudlo publicity claimed that the sea battle 
sequence took a total of two months to filr. One 
press :elease gave some Interesting background 
Information 1 

Curtiz began laying the frame work of his 
battle Immediately after he had been given the 
assignment of directing the ploturs. ~ ils plans 
Included the distance from the action and the 
angle o* each shot. 

After a discussion of several days with camera¬ 
men, technicians, writers and others, Curtiz decided 
upon a course requiring Blood's ship to sail into 
the harbor to discover the fort at the entrance 
exchanging fire with one Prench ship while the other, 

_ i blasting the town Itself, some u 

Ustant. . . A 


The Diligent , 
two miles dlst 


30 


UT rfher. : ■ • 

S .scene, he started with the Inn.- range navigation 
. --. thrill! •. 

nastes o'* men tumbling fror. spars high above 
the dec'cs (there were -ets to catch the.- bel-w) 
ae, viol lea on the crows nest, men 

swingling through the air from one ship to the 
other at the end of grappling h-oks, croups of 
men being crushed under collapsing portions of 
decks or being swept to death by the ends of 
lashing ropes draggln; from top masts, 

A .-roup of Hollywood stunt nen (Artie Ortego, 
Gene Alsuce, Kansas Hoehrlng, Jack Silver, Harry 
Dean, S'. Slocum, Ton Steele, olackle WhlteTord, 
and Jerry Fine) spent none than two weeks on 
this spectacular work alone. Then Cum is began 
the actual boarding scenes which took a week to 
onr,..: .' •• >]uence took one o'* the largest 

teohnleal crews ever assigned t P ? slnc-ie picture. 
The total sequence lasts less than twenty minutes 
on the screen. It closes with a series of quick 
dissolves “'-or. a shot of Blood fere! r.c , to a 
air ok 1 or cannon, to the sinking pirate ship, to a 

a -oil or. a drum, to a pile of weapons, 
with mo-e being added. The canera tilts up and 
tracks with Blood, Pitt and Wolverstone as they pnss 
by the pirate crew which is standing at attention. 
Curtiz also uses this sane econo-', cal transition 
from „ furiously paced nelee to a huap of r.ow- 
needless weapons to convey the final victory .11 
THE ADVEHTU.iiSS OP ROBIN HOOD. 

Usually the last Ingredient added to a “Up 
I s Its lusical score. CAPTAIN BLOOD*S - 
effective score was ‘he first original film 
music to be written by Internationally-known 
Austrl n - mposer, Erich Wolfgang Komrold. 

Korngold had been brought to Hollywood by his 
friend and associate, 'lax Reinhardt, to arrange 
nil] conduct the Mendelssohn score for Warners’ 
film version of A KIDS UPPER NIGHT'B DREAR. Evl- 
' ■ . r - - ■ 

•alents, since they signed him to a lonr-tern 
contract. His musical tradenark, a rich per¬ 
cussive brass Juxtaposed with a lyric woodwind 
melody, was capable of creating the atnosph«re of 
stlrrlru rmndeur needed In period-adventure 
films (he was to score seven u lynn pictures, but 
no' Tug CHARGE OF THE LIGHT 3RIIADE). Although 
*he music. In CAPTAIN BLOOD '.s suitably rousing 
nod -ncar.tlc when needed,_lt Is actually used 
|Ulti a -sely—especially sonpared to Korn-old's 

almost cont* r.uous scores >'or such films as THE 
ADVENTURES OF R03IN HOOD and THE SEA JOLF. 

An example of the masterly 'ntesratlon n r sound 
and Image can be seen In the scene that first Intro¬ 
duces ’hr- sugar plantation and stockade. Everv- 
, monotonous rhythm, th< 

horror if the slaves’ existence. As the camera 

lowly rev-1 vlr water u.v-ls. 



• 

heavy beat amplified by the plodding ste.t o'* the 
slaves and accented bv the sharp cracks of the over¬ 
seer’s whip. In rime w’. th the music, a black slave 
begins to strike a gong, calling the others to wit¬ 
ness the p’unlshnen - : of me v to tried t o escape, 
where the beat reaches Its logical conclusion with 
the crack or a bull whip across the back of a runaway. 

After more than a year of preparation end pro¬ 
duction, CATTAI!»’ BLOOD was made available In tine 
4 for the Christmas trade of l r '35. Actual filmin' had 
■ begun durlnv the first week.: o'* A: :st and lasted 

31 


through Octoberj and as Errol Flynr. relate.-;, " 
o* around that a rren’ Picture had been made, 
was released on Decenber 24 to generably favor 
-eviews especially, of course, in all Hearst con¬ 
trolled publications (It being a Cosmopolitan 
;reduction) where It received tremendous ballyhoo. 

An example of the way the film was__recelved may 
be seen In this Film Dolly review, wFilch character¬ 
istically emphasises the film’s noney-maklng po¬ 
tential for exhibitorsi 

Smashing drana to please all...Every type of 
Imaginable appeal to lure the femmes as well 
as the men and boys...An outstanding produc¬ 
tion. . .Love-.- with surging suspense from one 
stlrrln- episode to ar.o’her. Errol nynn Is 
splendid. A superlative Job...You can’t over¬ 
play It for it won’t le* you down. Go the 
1lnlt , 

Variety awarded Warners the distinction of the best 
exploitation :f the week for CAPTAIN BLCOD’s ad¬ 
vertising, of which the following Is a sanplei 
By actual count, a million dollars worth of 
adventure. Cities built and rased wlth cannon- 
fire... Great ships launched a-d blown to bits.., 
1,500 nen battling to the death with club and 
cutlass...The White slave markets of *he Carib¬ 
bean reproduced In all •'heir Infany...ocreen 
miracles performed to bring you Rafael Saba- 
tlnl’s immortal romance of the lovable rogue 
who fought a King's armada to win the beauty 
who had bought him as a slaveI 
Obviously the studio did not mind distorting the 
'acts to build up a film which, despite Its lack 
■' box-office names, managed to break attendance 
ecords In many theaters. Almost overnight, ^lynn, 
iho had made only 300 dollars a week during pro¬ 
motion, became a start Curtiz became a top- 
ranking, blr-budget director and Warners made an 
estimated four million dollars. 

Sine the time of CAPTAIN BLOCD’s original re¬ 
lease, nar.y swashbuckling adventure films have 
teen made, ‘he best of which hnve been Curtiz's 
CHARGE CF THE LIGHT 3RIGADE and THE ADVENTURES OF 
ROBIN HOOD with Flynnt Rouben Manoullan’s MARK 
OF SOT.P.O and John Cromwell’s SON OF FURY, both 
with Tyrone Power. The early Fifties saw a re- 
rurgence of the cycle with such blg-budvet pro- 
: : ■ :z VALIANT, I VAN HOE, KNIGHTS OF 

THE BOUND TABLE (K-G-M’s first wide-screen film) 
and the Disney versions of ROBIN HOOD and TREASURE 
ISLAND. (In 19*2, Sean Flynn tried to duplicate 
his father’s first success In an Italian-produced 
sequel ar;roprlately titled THE SON OF CAPTAIN 
BLOOD.) Some of these, like the two Burt Lancaster 
swashbucklers, THE FLAKE AND THE ARROW directed by 
Jacques Tourneur and THE CRIMSON PIRATE directed by 
F.obert ilodnak, were well-done and enjoyable enough, 
but none have been able to match the freshness, 
vitality, flair and excitement that make CAPTAIN 
BLOOD arguably the best period adventure film 
ever made. 



Footnotes 

1. Variety January 29, 1935. 

2. Jack Warner, Nv First Hundred Years In Hollywood . 
New Yorki Random House. 19*4 p,234. 

3. Errol Flynn, Mv Wicked Wicked Ways . New York, 

1959 p.202. 








CAPTAIN BLOOD (1935) 

Production Company 

Producer 

Director 

Script 

Photography 
Art Director 
Dialogue Director 
Music 

Musical Director 
Special Photographic 
Effects 
Editing 


, Arabella. Bl.8tj.ppV, 
Basil Rathbone (Le 


Cosmopolltan/Warner Brothers 
Harry Joe Brown (uncredlted) 
Michael Curtiz 

Casey Robinson, from the novel 
by Rafael Sabatlnl 
Hal Mohr, Ernest Haller 
Anton Grot 
Stanley Logan 
Erich Wolfgang Korngold 
Leo P. Forbsteln 


( Capt. Hobart ), _ 

Marv Forbes ( Mrs. Steed ). E.E. Clive ( 
- ' ' * -• " \ny (Lard 


Ganrster Footnotes continued fron p.10 

26. Warshow, op.clt . p.133. 

27. Jacobs, op.clt . p.511. 

28. Warshow, "Movie Chronlclei The Westerner," 

The Immediate Experience . New Yorki Atheneum, 1970 
P.136. 

29. Ibid . 

30. Warshow, "The Gangster as Tragic Hero," op.c lt. 

P.131. - 

31. Warshow, "Movie Chronlclei The Westerner,” 
op.clt . pp.140-141. 

32. W.R.Burnett, Little Caesar . New Yorki Literary 
Guild of America, 1929 p.31. 

” R.D.Lalng, The Divided Self . Penguin Books, 1970 


ir ). Ross Alexander ( Jeremy 
Pitt), Guy Klbbee ( Hagthorpe ). Henry Stephenson 
T Lord Willoughby ). Robert Barrat ( Wolverstone ). 

Hobart Cavanaugh ( Dr. Bronson ), Donald Meek (Dr. 
Whacker ). Jessie Ralph ( Mrs. Barlow ). Forrester 
Harvey ( Honesty Nuttall ). Prank McGlynn, Sr. ( Rev . 
Ogle ). Holmes Herbert ( Capt. Gardner ). David Torrence 
( Andrew Baynes ). J. Carroll N'alsh ( Cahusac ). Pedro 


34. 


3.139. 


Robin Wood, Howard Hawks . 
Warburg, 1968 p.65. 


Londoni Seeker and 


35. ..... 

36. Allen Eyles, "Edward G. Robinson," Films and 
Filming January 1964 p.l4. 

37. Lincoln Klrsteln, "James Cagney and the American 
Hero," Hound and Horn Aprll-June 1932 p.466. 

38. Whitehall, "Fart One," op.clt . p.9. 

39. Warshow, "The Gangster as Tragic Hero," op.cl t. 
P.133. 

40. Warshow, "Movie Chronlclei The Westerner," 
op.clt . pp.135-136. 

41. Ibid , p.143. 

42. Whitehall, "Part Three," op.c lt. p.42. 

43. Ibid. 

44. Jacobs, op.clt . p.512. 

45. Ibid , p.511. 

46. Wood, op.clt . p.60. 

47. Warshow, "The Gangster as Tragic Hero," op.clt . 
p.130. 

48. Henry Seidel Canby, "The Threatening Thirties," 
^ me_Saturday Review of Literature May 22, 1937 p.3. 

50. Whitehall, "Part Three," op.clt . p.40. 


32