Year: 1933

Director: Frank Borzage

Starring: Spencer Tracy Loretta Young, Marjorie Rambeau, Glenda Farrell, Walter Connolly , Arthur Hohl

Questions of morality are swiftly at play in this Borzage classic of depressive love. Man’s Castle is the story of a dreamer, and his forced confrontation with reality. The film begins on a note of fantasy, as Bill (Spencer Tracy), sits on a bench feeding pigeons. He’s dressed in a tuxedo, and his charismatic nature alludes to a man of great wealth. He’s confronted by a whisper of a woman, the beautiful and appropriately tiny, Trina (Loretta Young). A starving and frightened child, he whisks her off and feeds her the meal of her life, only to reveal his suit is nothing but an illusion, and he doesn’t have a dime to his name.

At most, ten minutes into the story, we already have a strong idea of the identity and dreams of the characters. Bill is a dreamer, he cannot and will not be tied down. The depression is almost freeing for him, as the expectations of normal society no longer conform. Even though, one can hardly imagine him conforming to ordinary life, even during a more opportune time, the pressure is alleviated by circumstance. Trina is a flower; fragile and dependent, if it were not for her overcoming strength in face of Bill, and her undying optimism. The illusion that she is, in any way, weak is absurd. The power she gains from her relationship from Bill is mutual, and rather than being defined by him, she allows him to be defined by her. His perceived belittling of her is somewhat off-putting at first, but there is an understanding between the characters that rises above words. Trina understands that Bill is frightened by the idea of being tied down, and the fact that he still remains with her throughout is a testament to the power she holds over him. He respects her in a way that no other man could, he gives her what she wants and needs, often betraying his own ideals and happiness. In a way, his sacrifices are far greater than hers, though both are forced to compromise for their love.

The moral structure of this film, is placed in context of the depression. Though the word is never used, the film is wrapped in it’s shroud. Most of the film takes place in a shanty town, where Bill and Trina live. Most action that exists outside, is dependent on survival or else a test of moral fortitude. The moral compass is defined by a minister character, Ira, who preaches the word of God, and condemns even Bill’s taking flowers as a form of robbery. He is gentle though, and holds a very altruistic view of right and wrong. His world view is that of the film, that one must qualify morality through intent and the greater good. Intention especially seems to be the root of his idea of good and bad, as when he understands that Bill only stole the flower to bring happiness to Trina he is able to forgive him quite easily. Bill’s foil in this regard, is Bragg, who also is in love with Trina, but uses similar crimes and gestures in order to hurt other people.

This all culminates, in Bill’s decision to rob a safe. Despite his pilfering of a flower, he does not believe in robbery, but will do it to bring comfort to Trina. There is a difference in his actions here, versus earlier in the film however. As his actions are not motivated by a desire to make Trina happier, but rather to make his own life easier. It’s his means of escape, and he is “rightfully” punished for it. His degree of wrong, pales greatly compared to that of Bragg, and the punishments for each are appropriate to the crime. In a way, Borzage advocates even murder, as justifiable under the right circumstances; an interesting, if not problematic understanding of the world. Good and Evil exist on a scale, and there is apparently a line one can cross that though presented clearly in the film, does not translate quite as well to real world situations.

The real thrust, and reason to watch the film however, is the beautiful romance that blossoms between the characters. Borzage soft focus and use of light create a unique world where true love is possible, and even the pain of reality cannot truly penetrate the gloss of their world. If Borzage had one talent, it was capturing the interior romance and affection of his characters and reflecting it through their exterior world. One cannot help being swept away by Borzage’s taste for beauty, and the glimmer of optimism that love not only exists, but can make the world a more beautiful place.

By Justine Smith

Cast: Spencer Tracy, Loretta Young, Walter Connolly, Marjorie Rambeau, Glenda Farrell

I FINALLY got this movie up and loaded on to YouTube. So now nobody has any excuse. Everyone can watch this movie. I decided since it’s up there now, I might as well make it the YouTube Movie of the Week, to advertise the fact that it’s now happily available.

I have already written so much on this movie, so I figured I’d just link to some previous posts on the site…

https://obscureclassics.wordpress.com/2008/04/24/heroines-in-film-trina-from-mans-castle/

https://obscureclassics.wordpress.com/2008/02/18/mans-castle-frank-borzage-1933/

And as soon as you’ve watched it, go to our podcasts page and take a listen to our Man’s Castle podcast.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7

Direct Download

Year: 1933

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

Year: 1940

Director: Gregory La Cava

Starring: Ginger Rogers, Joel McCrea, and Marjorie Rambeau

Primrose Path is really an interesting film. It’s quite fascinating that a film like this was able to get made during a time when the Production Code was still being strictly enforced. Ginger Rogers plays the tomboy daughter of a prostitute and an alcoholic. She falls in love with all around good guy Joel McCrea, but thinking he wouldn’t want her if he knew about her family, tells him she comes from a wealthy family that kicked her out because she wanted to be with him. They marry, but Rogers’ guilt eats her up inside and when the truth finally comes out Ed isn’t sure he forgives her.

The plot sounds like just a soapy melodrama, but it’s so much more than that. First of all, as I said before, the subject matter is quite amazing considering the Production Code. This movie is probably more blatant about its characters and themes of prostitution than any other film made at the time. It’s interesting to see how it sidesteps the issue without ever actually saying it or showing it, but still making it completely and abundantly clear that Marjorie Rambeau is a prostitute. Even more interesting is that she’s also a good woman. She a nice lady, a good mother, even a loving wife to an impossible husband. And Rambeau gives her such heart and honesty.

It’s the grandmother that’s a terror. Clearly a former prostitute herself, she sets up the obvious contrast needed to the story. To her, the point of prostitution was having fun and leading an easy life with lots of nice things without having to actually work. She doesn’t realize that to her daughter it is work. Rambeau is doing it because, with her brilliant husband no longer able to work because of his alcoholism, she’s the one who has to support the family.

The highlight of the film isn’t those risque themes, though. It’s the love story between McCrea and Rogers. Few love stories feel so real and honest. It’s not a grand, sweeping love story. It’s just simple and true. Both Rogers and McCrea were excellent actors who had the range to pull off both elegant glamor and American everyman. In this film they’re completely and wholly the latter. The simplicity of their performances makes the love story not something that seems like it’s unique to film. It feels completely real, like you’re watching two good friends fall in love. Which makes the unraveling of their relationship hurt even more.

The film is ultimately about the lies that destroy relationships, and Primrose Path hits that right on target. It’s made believable and heartwrenching by the establishment of the romance, and watching them fall apart and come back together is thrilling, because there are so few films that can make it feel as real and beautiful as this one does.

By: Katie Richardson

I figured I’d start thing out with my favorite movie…

Year: 1933
Director: Frank Borzage
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Loretta Young, Marjorie Rambeau, Glenda Farrell, Walter Connolly, Arthur Hohl
Availability: Not on DVD or commercial VHS, but can be found through rare video dealers. Try http://www.robertsvideos.com

Frank Borzage was the master of romance. His films were so much more rewarding than most romances because his characters truly earned their happiness. His very best films were made during the very worst of times, the Great Depression. Mannequin, Bad Girl, and his masterpiece Man’s Castle all stand out as three of the best films made in the 1930s.

In Man’s Castle, Borzage manages to make even such a harsh and awful time seem like a fairytale, and the precedent for that style is set in the very first scene. It’s Central Park at night, filmed in extremely soft focus, giving the scene a romantic and gentle feel, while what’s going on in the scene is anything but. Bill (Spencer Tracy) is sitting on a bench, throwing popcorn to the birds, watching almost apathetically while Trina (Loretta Young) cries to herself because she’s so hungry. The rest of the film works in this same way, turning the most tragic and hopeless of situations into a dreamy fairytale. Borzage creates a the fairy tale not by ignoring the problems of the world around them, but by making them live through these things to earn their happiness. The soft and dreamy feeling makes the film warm throughout, enforcing Borzage’s message that home is about who you’re with, not where you are.

Borzage stresses the connection between Bill and Trina and their isolation from the “rest of the world” early in the film. After they meet in the park, Bill takes Trina to a fancy restaurant, where they’re eventually kicked out because they can’t pay the bill. They follow that by walking the streets of New York. With not enough money to shoot on location, or even afford ectras for the backlot, Borzage used rear projection for this scene, and it only helps to make Trina and Bill stand out from the masses, and emphasize their separation from a happier world.

Not until they get to Bill’s Hooverville home do they mix in with the surroundings. These are the people they belong with. But despite the natually shabby appearance, the squatters village is filmed like a majestic castle. Bill and Trina make their home here, but it’s what that home symblolizes to each of them that drives the story onward. To Bill, home is nothing more than something that ties him to one place, and he constantly tells Trina throughout the film that he’s likely to leave her at any time. To Trina, the home is the one place where she’s finally found stability and something permanent. She refers to it in the film as her safety zone. She tells Bill that he’s free to leave anytime he wants, and even though that though truly does terrify her, she knows that even if Bill leaves, she’ll still have their home.

At first glance, Bill and Trina’s relationship doesn’t seem particularly loving or stable. Bill’s fear of being tied down leads him to ridicule Trina, and Trina’s need for committment and affection leads her to take that ridicule without fighting back. As Bill’s love for Trina grows, so does his restlessness, because he thinks that loving Trina means benig trapped. Bill constantly struggles between keeping himself free and making the woman he loves happy. This shows in his struggle over the stove that Trina wants. At first, he refuses to buy her the stove on the installment plan, knowing that he’d have to stay around for a year just to pay the stove off. Eventually though, he relents. His presentation of the stove to Trina is the most beautiful scene in the film. After a few minutes of gentle bullying and banter, he bring the stove into the house, surprising her. Trina, so overjoyed by the gesture, drops to her knees in front of the stove and dissolves into tears. It’s an awkward moment for Bill, not because of his lack of affection for Trina, but because he has so much for her that seeing her so happy makes him uncomfortable.

The struggle between Bill’s desires – to be free and never tied down, and to be loved and to love someone – continues to drive the plot of the film until the extremely satisfying ending, where Bill discovers that he doesn’t have to have one thing or the other.

By: Katie Richardson

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