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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

EDISON THE MAN (1940)

After the box-office beating they took on Mickey Rooney’s YOUNG TOM EDISON/’40 (with a portrait of young Tom as Booth Tarkinton’s PENROD that didn’t fly), M-G-M got lucky on this pricey, prestige follow-up with Spencer Tracy turning the prickly Mr. Edison into a hard-of-hearing sweetie-pie. Dore Schary’s script follows Edison’s dictum of one-percent inspiration & 99-percent perspiration, coasting along on ultra-smooth helming from Clarence Brown via a series of brainstorms & lab tests as Edison & his crew perfect the next indispensable invention. Plus a cute Morse Code courtship for romance. The story doesn’t try to connect Edison to great social issues like the Great Man bio-pics over @ Warners, and it conveniently leaves out his rock hard business instincts & stubborn refusal to see when he was wrong. Puny drama, no doubt, with deadlines & tight finances conveniently planted to create a bit of excitement & momentum. (The film was produced by a man named Orville O. Dull.) But it’s awfully well packaged stuff, handsomely shot by Harold Rosson and so cleverly paced, something seems to be happening most of the time. As an old pal, Lynn Overman’s vaudevillian shtick is a pain, and there’s a particularly dreary score from Herbert Stothart, but Tracy is such a canny actor, he makes small, sentimental magic out of dramatic pittances. Watch a corny bit where he interacts with Gene Reynold’s idealistic kid inventor. Without seeming to do anything, the man could wrench emotion out of a rock.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY-I: The film makes Edison more of a genius tinkerer than an inventor. Only recorded sound comes off as a fresh concept, everything else shown are improvements on existing ideas.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY-II: In an inadvertent slight in this hagiography, Felix Brassart’s friendly, if ungifted lab craftsman, is a near-ringer for Nikola Tesla, Edison’s great rival. Tesla lost many a legal battle to Edison The Businessman, but his Alternating Current largely displaced Edison’s Direct Current system.

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