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Heroes for Sale (1933)


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Heroes For Sale (1933) airs Thur. Dec. 6 at 3:45 AM ET on TCM

bartheroes.JPG

Director William Wellman's work is being featured this month, and, while I've seen several of his pre-code films, this Richard Barthelmess and Loretta Young film is one that I'm particularly looking forward to seeing for the first time.

 

Why? Barthelmess is an especially interesting actor in several of his early talkies when, as his career was on a sharp descent, he chose roles that were decidedly challenging, dealing with themes such as the devastating aftermath of WWI, and, in this film, addiction, economic displacement and political and very human responses to the Depression. I'd also like to see Loretta Young in another Wellman movie from this early stage of her career after seeing her unusually gritty work in Midnight Mary, (also being shown on (Thur., Dec. 13th at 1:15 AM ET on TCM).

 

I realize that all may sound dry as dust, but as Wellman demonstrated in several of his early '30s films at Warner Brothers, such as Wild Boys of the Road, (showing on Wed. Dec. 5th at 9:00 PM ET on TCM), his ability to transfer the hard facts of life in this period onto the screen in a visceral, still affecting manner is still worth a look. I hope that others will post their impressions of this particular film here after it airs later this week.

 

If you'd like a rundown of all of Wellman's Pre-Code and later films being shown this month, you can view an overview article here:

http://www.tcm.com/thismonth/article/?cid=182322&mainArticleId=182320

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I'm looking forward to this and, immediately preceding it, STAR WITNESS, too. That's a 1931 Walter Huston film with Chic Sale and Grant Mitchell - another Wm William film.

 

Any reviews of this? I am unfamiliar with either of these. (I think I'll also record the Laurel & Hardy short THEM THAR HILLS, which plays before STAR.)

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Hi Ollie,

Having seen Star Witness (1931) a few times, I think that you will enjoy the film's sometimes strained charm mostly due to the performance of Chic Sale and his relationship with young Dickie Moore in this dated but quite entertaining movie. This is one of the few times that a movie was stolen from Walter Huston, an undeniably deft feat! My most vivid impression of this Wellman movie might be summed up in the words of someone who once watched it with me, when he asked rhetorically "it has a lot of bounce, doesn't it?"

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I snagged THEM THAR, STAR, WILD BOYS and HEROES, and will watch those during the 'dead times' that TCM's next day's schedule allows! (I almost enjoy days when TCM doesn't have constant Greats showing!)

 

WILD BOYS with Ward Bond as a rapist. Wow. I'll have to dig back and find other Ward-as-Bad-Guy films. My favorite Ward Bond scene is either his duet under the honeymooning window-sill in WONDERFUL LIFE or him throwing away his rod-n-reel when he learns Sean Thornton and Will Danaher are fightin' in QUIET MAN. He certainly turned in a lot of solid performances, and this WILD BOYS scene is really interesting.

 

He's getting pummeled in a large gang of boys, and I wonder what the stunt work was like for that scene. How could some of those people swing and NOT hit someone? I mean, their age alone would preclude 'years of stunt experience' so I wonder how many fists met a few jaws?

 

I really enjoyed listening to Wellman's son discuss some details about these films and their impact on his father's life. "Why doesn't this happen more often?" comes to mind.

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I have wanted to see this film and Wild Boys for years. Both films were excellent with WB marred slightly by unsatisfactory ending. Heroes was filled with powerful images starting with the opening battle scene. I would say more but I don't want to spoil it for those who have recorded but not yet seen it. What an amazing film!

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I thought that Heroes for Sale (1933) was excellent, especially in the way it showed how little help was available for WWI veteran Richard Barthelmess and his fellow vets. The portrait of his struggle to cope with his addiction and the way in which it was looked on as primarily a moral weakness by society were well done too. I liked the way that the movie refused to accept easy solutions to Barthelmess' problems, though, like many a good Warner Bros. flick from the period, the mention of Rooselvelt's name causes a reverent hush to fall over even a bunch of hobos, (similar to the effect of the mention of Richard the Lionhearted in The Adventures of Robin Hood).

 

Also, any movie with Aline MacMahon is better for it. Her matter of fact do-gooder, who one moment is giving the brush to a guy spouting off about the masses, and the next is giving real, practical help to one of them was delightful. Her largely unspoken love for the Barthelmess' character, despite his involvement with Loretta Young, was a marvel of economical character expression.

 

I also liked the encounter that Barthelmess' character had with Robert Barrat's "radical", (who soon went to the other extreme of becoming an unbridled capitalist). While the movie toyed with ideas of the time for social change, I liked the way that the film ultimately found little good in the alleged "scientific" approach to solving social, labor or personal problems--though, of course, this was once again a case of WB movies exploiting real pain and dramatic issues of the period while still expressing underlying support for the system that made the success of the studio possible.

 

Richard Barthelmess' performance as a humane man trying to live an ethical life, despite everything, was very good in a stoic, bottled up way that made his plight more touching when he allowed his emotions to pour out in brief moments of the movie. There were no easy solutions given for him, his compatriots, or society, though his generosity of spirit, expressed in his openhearted, weary forgiveness for the young man who had done him harm at the end of the film, seems to imply that the determination and basic goodness of people will triumph in the end...well, maybe.

 

I do wonder how audiences in the Depression truly felt about this film. It must've been hard to take, since so much of it was close to the misery many of them were experiencing at the time.

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Superb and cynical film from Warners during the depth of the Depression. Richard Barthelmess is great as the hapless "hero" who endures the misfortunes of WW I and the Depression, drug addicition, jail time, and the "red scare.". The film also boasts good work from Loretta Young, Aline MacMahon, Gordon Westcott, Charley Grapewin, Berton Churchill, Grant Mitchell, Robert Barrat, and James Murray as the blind solider.

 

Barthelmess was a major silent star and had a solid career in early talkies in films like THE LAST FLIGHT, THE DAWN PATROL, WEARY RIVER, and others. He also gave one of the all-time great performances in silent film in TOL'ABLE DAVID.

 

HEROES FOR SALE is terrific because it shows how an ordinary man can get caught up in ordinary life and still be great. One review says this film was pulled from circulation because of the morphine addiction story.

 

There's a great scene where Barthelmess is sitting in the rain in a hobo camp when his eyes meet another man's. It's the banker's son (Gordon Westcott) who took the war glory after he thought Barthelmess had been killed. His sanctimonious banker father had fired Barthelmess for his morphine addiction (because of war wounds), but finally gets caught for stealing from the bank's depositors. The banker and son also did jail time (as Barthelmess did for leading a riot). But when Barthelmess realizes the sorrow of the other man, the ironies of life become full blown there in the rain. A terrific scene.

 

 

 

Message was edited by: drednm

 

Message was edited by: drednm

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Hi Drednm,

That's so interesting that you interpreted Heroes for Sale as a "cynical" film. I would characterize it as the film of a wounded idealist, since, despite everything, it seems to me that the movie rejects despair and rage in favor of dogged determination to endure. With little reason to hope for anything better, Richard Barthelmess' character clings to his humanity and approaches his problems with an almost saintly amount of patience, imo.

 

If the movie is cynical, it seems to reserve that for those who would exploit or turn their backs on others such as the Robert Barrat agitator, or Berton Churchill's banker and his son, Gordon Westcott--who certainly got his comeuppance. I hope to see this movie again soon, it is such an interesting, even contradictory movie open to interpretation. Thanks so much for posting your thoughts.

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well it's 6 of one and half dozen of the other... an idealist in a cynical world... maybe hypocrital is the better word... but I saw it as cynical in that whatever COULD go wrong DID go wrong for Barthelmess, and his idealism sort of came to him as he went along and learned to deal with the fates.... in any case I really liked the film. Barthelmess never played it (his idealism) in a cloying manner.....

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well it's 6 of one and half dozen of the other... an idealist in a cynical world... maybe hypocrital is the better word... but I saw it as cynical in that whatever COULD go wrong DID go wrong for Barthelmess, and his idealism sort of came to him as he went along and learned to deal with the fates.... in any case I really liked the film. Barthelmess never played it (his idealism) in a cloying manner.....

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I thought it was a little stupid of him to give away the $51,000 he had saved up and then complain about being a homeless hobo. He could have had a free room and free food for life at the very mission he set up. Plus, that much money in 1933 would be like half a million dollars today.

 

-----

 

Plus, his commission on the invention continued to make about $10,000 a year for him, and that was a fortune in 1933.

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I thought it was a little stupid of him to give away the $51,000 he had saved up and then complain about being a homeless hobo. He could have had a free room and free food for life at the very mission he set up. Plus, that much money in 1933 would be like half a million dollars today.~FredCDobbs

 

Hi Fred,

I thought that plot point about the money was stretching credibility a bit too. Though Barthelmess' character does set up his son with the steady money coming in for Aline McMahon to care for him, I felt that this central character had a streak of **** at times and, as Drednm points out, he didn't really complain about being a hobo, but seemed to derive some spiritual strength from being a wandering, Christ-like figure. As I mentioned earlier in this thread, it interested me that the movie took the odd paths it did in terms of story, but wondered how Depression era audiences reacted to this man's "chosen" stringent life-style.

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I think the film has a very modern feel to it just because of the cynical story and idealistic hero... almost like a Frank Capra story in which the man is "saved" or discovers himself through his own misfortunes. Plausible? Probably not. But it was fascinating and well acted.

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