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Thursday, August 10, 2017

THEY GAVE HIM A GUN (1937)

Ludicrous meller combines two well-trod storylines: War Pals returning home changed men (one for the worse); and Two Pals who love the same dame almost as much as they love each other (with the gal pal marrying the one she loves less). This shouldn’t have posed a problem for a big studio like M-G-M at the time, but the plotting & characterizations here are both seriously unhinged & utterly unconvincing. Spencer Tracy, in-between signature roles in SAN FRANCISCO/’36 and CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS/’37, gets the troublemaker/doughboy spot, doing the right thing if sometimes in the wrong way; Franchot Tone’s the sweet-natured small town guy who devolves from scared soldier-boy to sniper expert who enjoys the kill. Gladys George makes an unlikely WWI nurse/love interest (even at 37 she looks pretty used) who marries Tone when Tracy is mistakenly reported killed in action. Trying to make the best of things, she plays the good wife back in Chicago, doing needlepoint at home while Tone secretly makes hay as sniper supreme for the mob. Tracy bumps into his old pal; figures out the score; and pines for George who then informs on her hubby . . . to save him. That’s when things really go off the rails as Tone puts a hit on his wife; tries to go straight in jail but escapes to track down Tracy & George who sneak out of town using Tracy’s traveling circus as diversion. (?!?) Yet staying pure as the driven snow, natch. Director W. S. Van Dyke keeps a straight face by cramming the whole works into a tidy hour & a half and lenser Harold Rosson does make things shimmer. But with dense & despised M-G-M producer Harry Rapf in charge, no one bothered to tell him what a load of crap he was working on.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID/WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: With similar elements, including Gladys George in a better fitting role, Warners made the far superior ROARING TWENTIES/’39. And, as bonus, offering the chance to compare & contrast montage men Slavko Vorkapich (@ M-G-M) and Don Siegel (@ Warners). Vorkapich probably did the nifty titles for GUN, too.

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