Monday, December 14, 2015

Men Must Fight

A really interesting and little-seen movie is coming up overnight on TCM: Men Must Fight, at 4:45 AM tomorrow morning.

Diana Wynyard plays Laura, who at the start of the movie is a nurse in the World War I; the movie having been released in 1933, the was was of course known as the Great War. She's serving over in France, which is where she meets dashing young American flyboy Geoffrey (Robert Young). They fall in love, but he being a fighter pilot, he's in a dangerous profession that killed a lot of men at a young age, and Geoffrey winds up being one of those casualties. Still, before his death he was able to get Laura nice and pregnant, leaving her a never-married woman who is about to become a single mother. Feeling for Laura is a man who could love her but knew he was taking a back seat to the pilot, young diplomat Edward (Lewis Stone) Seward. He marries her to help solve her problem, and the two go back to the States after the war ends.

Fast forward to 1940. Notice the date; that's seven years in the future from the point of view of when the movie was made. Laura wound up having a son Bob, who is now all grown up (Phillips Holmes). Bob is working as a chemical engineer, while Dad has risen to become Secretary of State. And when I say Dad, I mean that Mom never told Bob the truth about his background and that the man he's considered his father all these years is only his adoptive father, not his biological father. Dad, with his wife soon to follow, are dealing with a serious issue: war looks as though it's coming to Europe again, and how should America navigate those troubled waters?

Sure enough, war does come, despite Dad's best efforts to keep the peace. If America does get into the war, however, Dad is going to make certain the Americans win, no pacifist he. Mom, however is going to do everything she can to keep America out of the war, going so far as to organize a coalition of the mothers of America to stand up against the drive to get America into the war. Bob, for his part, also takes a radical step: he's willing to quit his job when his bosses think the solution to the war problem is to create more effective poison gases. There's no way Bob wants to create weapons of mass destruction, not that they use that term.

The problem for the Seward family is that the war has already come to America in the form of an aerial attack on New York, and there's no way the people of America are going to stand for that. Laura and Bob's pacificsm threatens not only to tear the family apart, but hurt both of them physically. While Bob has a girlfriend Peggy (Ruth Selwyn) who fully believes in the war effort to the point that she's willing to dump him for being a pacifist, there's a more immediate probem of that braying mob of Americans which is fine not only with attacking Laura's pacifist speeches, but also stoning the Sewards' swanky New York apartment.

Men Must Fight is interesting in that it takes a reasonably fair look at both sides of the issue of whether to go to war or not. Equally interesting, looking back, is the movie's look at the future. Sure, Japan had already attacked China by the time the movie was released, but the Nazis had only just come to power, and nobody could know yet that war was coming back to Europe in six years time. They certainly couldn't know what was eventually going to drag America into that war. In addition to that, the movie also shows television, which was a nascent technology at the time the movie was made with the first experimental broadcasts having been made just a few years earlier. That broadcasting technology was also shown in the use of video phones, which of course would be much further down the pike if we ever got them at all. (Sure we have videoconferencing and Skype and things like that, but I don't think the idea of a standalone video phone ever really took off.)

I don't know if Men Must Fight has gotten a DVD release, but I don't think so considering that it doesn't seem to be available from either the TCM Shop or Amazon. That's a shame since the movie is so interesting.

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