Director: Frank Borzage
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Loretta Young, Glenda Farrell, Marjorie Rambeau, Walter Connolly
This very old movie deals with timeless themes. Themes just as relevant today as they were 75 years ago when this film was released.
The story follows a young woman named Trina played by Loretta Young who has been out of work for a year. In her relatively ineffective attempts to find food and survive she encounters a peculiar man named Bill. His influence has a lasting effect on her.
It is a very simple movie really, but it transcends its own simplicity and actually ends up being more akin to a masterpiece thanks primarily to three major successes.
First, of course, is the script. This is a no nonsense script that was expertly created. It doesn’t attempt to be an epic or anything more then just a well crafted slice of life filled with very well written dialogue. A slice of life with a simple surface but deep explorations into humanity under the surface as well.
This dialogue wouldn’t mean much without the talents of some very fine actors. Both Loretta Young and Spencer Tracy bring these characters to life, effortlessly surmounting the 75 year old handicap that this movie has to struggle against to reach modern audiences. This films second major success is the excellent acting and timeless portrayals.
Lets start with Spencer Tracy. Bill is a character that is both self-assured and self-sufficient despite hard economic times. He is pure confidence and masculinity. He could also be considered immature and self-serving, but under the bravado is a lot of humanity. He doesn’t answer to anybody and he takes care of not only himself but looks out for those around him, despite the economic hardships of the era. He is tough, but at heart a kind person, a person who arguably has ran from life’s harsher realities and has been hardened by them simultaneously. At the same time he is still optimistic no matter how harsh the times have become, in fact he is always staring at the sky and listening to the passing trains, hoping for the best not only for himself but for those around him.
Spencer Tracy plays Bill masterfully. Watching him swagger around from scene to scene is delightful. Despite Bill’s big shoes, Spencer Tracy does a flawless job filling them and the end result is a perfectly played character that carries the film.
Well, maybe not carries the film. Loretta Young equally deserves the credit. Without her part and the understated manner in which she plays it the film would be nothing. Loretta Young, at just 20 years of age proves she is a force to be reckoned with as she plays this unforgettable character. Trina is a very interesting blend of wisdom, naivety and helplessness. She is completely dependent on Bill, and she is smart enough to let him be himself, to let him be his own man and not trap him. She knows that beggars can’t be choosers and she is quite literally a beggar. When he puts her down, disregards her and strays away she doesn’t judge, nor does she try to tame him. She is dependent on him and wise enough to know that attempts to shackle him would only drive him away. Trina is a pleasure to watch. In a world full of depression both emotionally and economically, she finds happiness in the little things and is a breath of fresh air in comparison to so many who both then and now seem plagued with pessimism. One wonders just how calculated her interactions with Bill are as the movie unfolds. Speculation concerning that question is part of what makes the film engaging and fascinating.
The third major success of Man’s Castle is the completely timeless theme which I hinted at earlier. This is a film as relevant now as it was then and the themes touched on will be relevant hundreds of years from now as well. Man’s Castle is largely about a man’s desire to roam about and be free. Man’s Castle is about the age old fear of commitment, as old as the male gender itself. As long as there are relationships involving men there will be the desire to avoid what is perceived as the bondage that comes with commitment and fidelity that is so foreign to the natural state of masculinity. This film portrays that struggle and the fear and the potential joy associated with giving in and embracing committed love.
This movie is also about finding happiness in reality. Life is unlikely to be as satisfying as the dreams of youth. One of the secrets to happiness it seems is finding satisfaction despite depressing circumstances. Certainly in the early 1930s there were plenty who did not learn that lesson and thankfully plenty who did. Man’s Castle isn’t the only story to teach us that happiness has more to do with attitude then circumstances, but it certainly is one of the more entertaining stories to teach that very valuable moral.
By Greg Dickson