Wednesday March 23, 2022
A Steve McQueen Vibe
That's what I got from Franchot Tone in this scene from MGM's “Three Comrades,” which was released in 1938:
He's between two Bobs: Robert Taylor on the left and future “Father Knows Best” Robert Young on the right. It's not a good film. I watched it because “Three Comrades” was one of those 1930s Hollywood movies denuded of any anti-Nazi themes. It's based on a novel by Erich Maria Remarque about three friends in the post-WWI Weimar Republic, and a romance for one of them, and, according to Louis B. Mayer biographer Scott Eyman, its production was watched closely by George Gyssling, the Nazi consul in Los Angeles. Yes, Germany had a consul there who pressured studios to do right by the Nazis. Eyman writes:
Gyssling had been emboldened by MGM's canceling of a film based on Sinclair Lewis's controversial novel It Can't Happen Here a few months earlier. The studio had been no more than a week away from going into production when the film was suddenly shelved. The studio blamed a high budget, but Lewis claimed that Will Hays, worried about a threatened boycott from Germany and Italy, had told MGM to cease and desist.
Then Gysslling set to work on this one. Apparently the novel was also vague as to who those early 1920s mobs were. Communists? Fascists? Whigs? The movie doubles down on the vagueness but it's vague on everything. MGM was good at sanding off any rough edges. Here's a quote from “Three Comrades” producer Joe Mankiewicz:
“Warner Bros. had guts. They hated the Nazis more than they cared for the German grosses. MGM did not. It kept on releasing its films in Nazi Germany until Hitler finally threw them out.”
“Three Comrades” is also of note because it's the only official screenplay credit for F. Scott Fitzgerald. In it, the two Roberts are dull boys—though Young gives us a little something something—but Tone seems like a real person, and interesting, as the photos above indicate. Poor Robert Taylor is the dude saddled with a dull romance, with the dull Margaret Sullvan (nominated for an Oscar), whose character suffers from a dull, nondescript illness that eventually kills her. Taylor was big back then but his movies haven't aged well, have they? Or they've just never crossed my path. Beyond this, what have I seen of his? “Quo Vadis,” I guess, once upon a time.