Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Monday Movies Post

Ever heard of a movie called "Men Must Fight"? It's an MGM film from 1933, directed by Edgar Selwyn (from a play by Reginald Lawrence and S. K. Lauren). Here's the original NYT review. The main person you're likely to recognize is Lewis Stone, who plays the Secretary of State; also in it is Robert Young, in a brief part, and Hedda Hopper, three years before she transitioned from actor to gossip columnist. You may also recognize Robert Greig, a large man who is, as usual, cast as a butler (he's in The Lady Eve and other Preston Sturges movies); also, May Robson, who plays Stone's mother, you should know from "Bringing Up Baby." The star, Diana Wynyard, is I suppose famous for the British version of "Gaslight."

I won't go through the plot, but it's essentially an argument between female pacifism and male honor. I have no idea how the original play balanced it, but here the argument is awfully close to a draw. Stone, the Secretary of State, spends his career making peace, but war comes in futuristic 1940 and he rallies to his duty -- while his wife opposes him both in public (she leads antiwar rallies) and within the family, where they fight for the loyalty of their son. Will he remain a pacifist, or will he enlist?

As a movie, it has the advantages and disadvantages of its time. It's very talky; they move the action around a fair amount, but it still has the sensibility of a theatrical play. Which obviously worked sometimes, but falls short in many films of that era. What "Men Must Fight" does have going for it are special effects, including a spectacular enemy air raid on New York City. Okay, it's not 21st century effects, or even 1970s effects, but it's still fun. As is the television in their 1940 "future" -- I wonder if this movie features the first-ever time anyone ever tossed something through a TV screen out of anger.

The contest between pacifism and honor, at least in my reading, was even enough that I was never really sure which side the movie was on, although I wouldn't say it's a particularly deep study of the subject. Alas, it's a bit undermined, to my eyes, at least, because Stone versus Wynyard is an unfair match; Stone is a pure screen actor, while Wynyard (at least here) seems theatrical, in that awkward way that many stars of the era had.

What's interesting is that the plot largely serves to take a group of people who have various attitudes towards patriotism and war and eventually realign them strictly on gender lines. That is, Stone is a man of peace between the wars, but once war threatens he's honor-bound to support it; the suggestion that he should resign in protest is beyond his understanding. Other characters, too, switch sides as the move goes along. The gender politics is made explicit in the final scene...well, that, and the title. Indeed, the title basically is the argument of the story; men, we're told, really must (by their natures) fight.

(By the way, Wynyard's character is could easily be the inspiration for Joan Collins in "City on the Edge of Forever." Not saying she was, at all, just the she could have been).

I said it had the advantages of the era; one of them is that it's short and efficient, at just 72 minutes. Certainly held my attention. That said, it's by no means a great movie. I'll give it a very mild recommendation; you'll probably find it worth the hour plus if you're particularly interested in what folks in 1933 through of war, or if you're interested in gender and politics of that era.

5 comments:

  1. The Depression was biting pretty hard around then, yes? Wonder if that impacted the view of political violence. Given how many people today are talking about 2nd Ammendment remedies and the like in public, it wouldn't surprise me to see a similar correlation then.

    Also, being slightly cheeky here if I may, could I piggyback on this to ask if you've seen Good Night, and Good Luck? And if so, what you thought of it?

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    1. It's interesting; there's no Depression in the movie at all. It's set in 1918 and 1940, and the 1940 scenes are mostly among the wealthy, but at least in this version of the near-future the Depression doesn't last.

      I'm afraid I haven't seen "Good Night..." It used to be on my list, but has sort of dropped off; I'll have to think about whether to put it back on my list.

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    2. Thanks for the reply :) I'd say it's worth a look, but then I'd also say that about Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom...

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  2. I've nmade some extremely embarrassing typos in my time, but "the first-ever time anyone ever through something through a TV screen out of anger," that's a classic.

    Did someone throw an object in past tense, dear JB? Is the spell-checker really our friend? It doesn't help me when I leave out key words altogether, since when I proofread I still mentally insert the needed word and thus miss it on the page.

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    1. Fixed; thanks.

      I do really want to know if it's the first time it ever happened.

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