Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
USA, 1938. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Screenplay by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edward E. Paramore Jr., based on the book by Erich Maria Remarque. Cinematography by Joseph Ruttenberg. Produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Music by Franz Waxman. Production Design by Cedric Gibbons. Film Editing by Frank Sullivan. Academy Awards 1938.
Adapted (liberally, I’m sure) from the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, this film revolves around the friendship between three soldiers in World War I. Coming home to a politically torn Germany following battle, the men start up a car repair shop while one of them (Robert Taylor) drives a taxi cab to supplement their income. On a particular day while driving in the woods, the boys (the other two who are played by Robert Young and Franchot Tone) meet a high society dame (Margaret Sullavan) with whom Taylor immediately becomes smitten. He doesn’t fit into her social set, however, so she abandons it in favour of being with him but (*cough cough*) trouble is afoot somewhere in her constitution. Meanwhile, Young becomes more and more involved in his political activism (though exactly what the politics are, the people at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer insist on not telling us) while Tone stands around to give everyone sage, touching advice. It’s actually classy for its time, avoiding very obvious manners of painful emotional manipulation, but there’s still some feel-good pandering going on. The three guys have terrific chemistry between them, but they’re also about as German as the Mojave desert, while Sullavan (in an Oscar-nominated performance) is lovely to the point of exasperation: scene after scene of smooth, confident delivery from those starry eyes and buck teeth eventually make you want to shove her face right into the snow.