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Saturday, June 25, 2016

UNDER PRESSURE (1935)

Modern audiences are at something of a disadvantage on this action-dramedy/buddy pic as its brawling leads, Edmund Lowe & Victor McLaglen, already had a long established character relationship as co-stars, working (often with director Raoul Walsh) on their rivalry act for a decade, back to WHAT PRICE GLORY/’26. There, they fought each other & WWI; here, they sweat it out under the East River as ‘sweathogs,’ digging a tunnel from Brooklyn to Manhattan; and trying, between personal tiffs, to beat Charles Bickford & crew who are burrowing toward them from Manhattan. Do the teams meet in the middle, or blow the works, along with their health, in punishing pressurized air tube conditions. The film assumes we know these guys too well to bother with much character development, but there’s enough action, one-upmanship and nights with the girls (one game but genteel/one loyal but gamey) to make this pay off. Some of the special effects are now on the quaint side, but a lot of the physical production remains impressive. (Especially the main drilling room which might have inspired a Diego Rivera mural.) And no way could you still find the believable body types who make up the crews. Truly a lost manly form, they look like boxers from the turn-of-the-last-century.* It gives the film a verisimilitude you just can’t buy.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *McLaglen was a noted prize-fighter in the early 1900s, even fighting an exhibition match against Jack Johnson.

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