Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Man's Castle (1933)

Spencer Tracy and Loretta Young play a Depression Era couple who have to deal with poverty as well as the unique dynamics of their own relationships.

Tracy plays Bill, a poverty-stricken man who encounters Trina, who is also dealing with the Great Depression. Whereas Bill is able to somehow always able to find food, Trina is starving on the streets, refusing to take the easy route and prostitute herself. Upon seeing Trina jealously eying the popcorn that he is throwing to some pigeons, Bill takes her to dinner (which he can't afford) and then invites her to live with him in the shantytown in which he lives.

There, through a serious of vignettes, we see the relationship develop, as well as the issues plaguing the relationship. Bill is a somewhat childish man, who never sticks around for very long, but certain events occur that could keep him nailed down in one place, and he struggles with his urges to leave as well as his growing love for Trina.

What makes the film interesting is the dynamics between the two. It's very easy to see Trina as the poor downtrodden woman who only wishes to become a good wife for the man who saved her life, but she's probably the most stable and mature in the relationship. She understands who Bill is, and accepts it, giving him the independence that he so thrives on. Bill, however, seems to keep Trina at arm's length, trying to leave room open for the departure he feels is inevitable, but we get to see him change, particularly in a series of money-making methods to buy a new stove for Trina. The brilliant thing about the stove is that it requires monthly payments, so it comes to represent a commitment, one that Bill seems willing to make for Trina's happiness.

It goes without saying that the acting is top notch, with each actor fully embodying their character and giving in rich and subtle performances. Loretta Young is bright and happy as Trina, which serves as a brilliant counterpoint to Spencer Tracy's aloof Bill, who acts almost like a bird in a cage for most the film, hoping to somehow get free.

The film, which was directed by Frank Borzage, almost has the feeling of a bizarre fairytale. When we first see the shantytown in which Bill lives, it's almost idealized, like some sort of Fairy Land, due to the lighting and mist. Which is odd, because the film has more "real life" issues than a lot of older films, primarily because it was pre-code film. Just the fact that the film focuses on a unmarried couple who live together sets it apart from a lot of other films.

The film is really good, and it's probably hard to find, since it's quite obscure. I'll post a link to the first part of the movie on youtube at the bottom of this entry, and I hope you actually take a chance to watch it, because it's a great little movie that hasn't really received the attention is probably deserves.

Part 1

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