Thursday, May 1, 2008

Spencer Tracy Update

Two and a half weeks ago I mentioned the Fox Movie Channel's showing one of Spencer Tracy's early movies. Well, the two currently in their rotation are showing up on May 2: Up the River at 7:30 AM et, followed by The Power and the Glory 9:00 AM. The former is out on DVD, so I'd like to talk about the latter.

Spencer Tracy plays Tom Garner, a railroad magnate who dies, and it is his funeral we see at the very beginning of the movie. Almost everybody hates the man, thinking that he wasn't a very nice person, either in his professional life, or his personal life. However, one man, his executive secretary Henry (played by Ralph Morgan) begs to differ. He knew Tom since the two were boys, and he knows that Tom was just a misunderstood man, despite the fact that even his wife doesn't believe him.

Indeed, we learn that it's not without reason that people didn't like Tom. He grew up poor, had to work his way from being just a lineman to going to night school before becoming president of the railroad. Along the way, he was supported by his wife Sally (Colleen Moore) who loved him unfailingly, but who was repaid by Tom's falling in love with a younger woman Eve Borden (Helen Vinson), which directly leads to Sally's death. Of course, the love affair with the younger woman doesn't work out either. Ultimately, there's some sympathy to be had for Tom Garner, but not as much as Henry would like us to have.

The Power and the Glory has a short running time of about 76 minutes, which is really a shame, because Tom Garner's character really needs more time to be fleshed out. It's easy to see, however, the acting ability that Spencer Tracy had this early in his movie career and why, when he moved to a more prestigious studio and got better parts, would eventually become one of the silver screen's all time greats.

There are two bits of trivia to watch for. First, The Power and the Glory was made before Fox merged with Twentieth-Century, and the logo at the end is quite different from what you'd expect. By the same token, the well-known Fox fanfare isn't heard. Second, watch the credits carefully; the screenwriter is none other than Preston Sturges, writing what is most definitely not a comedy.

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