Friday, November 20, 2009

Capture the Flag

The movie that shows up much less frequently than How Green Was My Valley that I'd like to recommend is No Greater Glory, airing tomorrow morning at 8:30 AM on TCM.

Based on a novel by Ferenc Molnár (who also wrote the play Carousel, and the play on which One, Two, Three was based), it's set in the world of Berlin's children in the period between the wars. There are two rival "gangs", the Paul Street Boys (led by Boka, played by Jimmy Butler), and a gang led by Feri Ats (played by Frankie Darro). Feri Ats' gang is more powerful than Boka's, but this is really more kids' stuff than real hooliganism and organized crime. Feri Ats and his gang have decided to take over the lumber yard where the Paul Street Boys have their "headquarters", but this being kids' stuff, they have rules about this stuff, and it's really more a game of capture the flag than anything else.

In the middle of all this is little Nemecsek (George Breakston). He's the sort of kid who would generally get picked last for all the kids' games and, being that kind of young boy, wants desperately to fit in with the bigger boys. However, he's also a sickly boy, and he really shouldn't be out playing war with the others, because he's suffering another attack of ill health. But, he's so set on fitting in that he goes out anyway, even if it means he could get seriously ill.

No Greater Glory wasn't one of Columbia's "prestige" movies when it was released, but it's surprisingly good. The child actors aren't cloying at all, although it helps that one of the male leads was Darro, who had already appeared in dozens of movies despite being all of 16 when this was made. As for the other two leads, they had much differing futures. Breakston had previously appeared as the bus passenger with the sick mother in It Happened One Night, but after this would go on to play "Beezy" in the Andy Hardy movies, and, as an adult, become a director. Jimmy Butler didn't have it so good, though. He kept working in the movies until World War II came, but left Hollywood to serve. He died in France in February 1945 at the age of 23.

No Greater Glory, being one of those rarer Columbia Pictures films, has not made it to DVD, and probably won't any time soon. You'll have to catch the TCM airing.

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