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Saturday, November 13, 2010

HEROES FOR SALE (1933)

This unusually well-realized William Wellman pic from the depths of the Depression remains powerful & bleak, even when its dramatic reversals feel a bit contrived. Richard Barthelmess, in good form, plays a severely injured WWI vet who comes home hooked on morphine, and with his war heroism swiped by a rich pal. He touches bottom before getting clean and making a fresh start with gal pal Aline MacMahon & gorgeous hall-mate Loretta Young whom he marries. Barthelmess also makes good at work, moving up from driving a route to ‘idea man.’ He modernizes the place only to watch helplessly as automation decimates his workforce. (The film is a Luddite horror story.) On the outs with labor & management, and in trouble with the law who think he could be a ‘red’ sympathizer, only the road ahead beckons. This modern Job story, a feature-length dramatization of ‘Remember My Forgotten Man,’ the musical finale to GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 just released by Warners, doesn’t have the fact-based grounding that ennobled I AM A FUGITIVE FROM THE CHAIN GANG/’32, but it sure touches on a smorgasbord of up-to-the-minute issues. Its 71 incident-filled minutes are somewhat over-stuffed & simplistic, but riveting.

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