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Monday, April 29, 2013

MANPOWER (1941)

Director Raoul Walsh had been playing to his strengths since moving to Warners for THE ROARING TWENTIES/’39, but on his sixth release he rested. It’s the umpteenth iteration of a Warner’s staple, the one about Mutt & Jeff working pals and the dame who marries the ‘Mutt’ out of pity, then falls hard for ‘Jeff.’* This time out, the boys (Eddie G. Robinson & George Raft) are linemen for the electric company; BFF who fall out when SEX, in the form of a slightly deglamorized Marlene Dietrich, enters the picture. (No bromance on the set though, where the fisticuffs between Raft & Robinson were real. Raft never got back on the A-list.) Producer Mark Hellinger had his writers pad out the old formula with too much corny comic relief for Alan Hale, Frank McHugh & crew, but landed some legit laughs with a diner counterman who spits out short-order slang to beat the band. And, naturally, Eve Arden, who works with Dietrich at a clip-joint, gets off a couple of zingers. The film still comes across on some level and the nifty model shots during the storm scenes are fun to spot. (And work pretty well, too.) Walsh rouses himself in a few action sequences, with every fake punch impeccably staged. And there’s a smashing bit of psychological action mise-en-scène that conjoins an illicit smooch, a crash of thunder & a ‘guilty’ door that flies open. A master’s touch, that.

DOUBLE-BILL: *The same basic story looks much fresher in Howard Hawks TIGER SHARK/’32 which has Eddie G. in more-or-less the same role. By ‘41, the professional polish of Golden Age Hollywood Studio-Style was starting to embalm the product. It’s what Ford, Welles & Lubitsch were beginning to rebel against in GRAPES OF WRATH/’40; CITIZEN KANE/’41 and TO BE OR NOT TO BE/’42 before the war put everything on hold ‘for the duration.’

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