The Struggle (1931) Poster

(1931)

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8/10
Innovative to the last
fred3f15 February 2006
I hesitated for some time before seeing "The Struggle" because it was considered by most critics to be a pathetic boring mess done by a broken man. I knew it was Griffith's final film and I didn't want to see this great master produce a terrible film at the end of his career. When I finally did view it I found that a film that is full of passion, new ideas and bold innovative strokes.

There are several innovations in the use of sound. At the time actors were careful to talk one after the other because it was thought that people talking at the same time would be too confusing for the audience. Griffith used overlapping dialog and a party scene with multiple background sounds of music and talking as well as dialog. This sounded far more natural. Also at this time actors were being told to use artificial elocution and diction when speaking on screen. They usually sounded either foreign or very upper crust. Griffith had his actors use natural accents. Hal Skelly and Zita Johnson sound like normal people who talk fast use slang and sometimes slur their words.

The most impressive innovation was in Griffith's development of the plot. The story of a man who sinks into alcoholism could and would normally be treated as a moral lesson against the evils of drink. In Griffith's hands it is personal tragedy that has to do with the strength's and weakness of the individuals involved. Jimmy becomes an alcoholic because of his own personality traits and whatever redemption he achieves is due to the strength of his love for his wife and his daughter. There is no preaching here. Griffith had done a similar film called "Isn't Life Wonderful" in Germany which influenced German filmmakers particularly Pabst in his "Joyless Street." "Joyless Street" is innovative in it's own right but it is clear where its inspiration comes from when whole sections of it are lifted from "Isn't Life Wonderful".

"The Struggle" was a financial failure. Without enough personal funds and without the confidence of any backers, Griffith would never make another film. He had lost touch with his audience. Caught in the middle of the Great Depression, American audiences wanted a moral lesson so they could fix blame, or pure escapism. The last thing they wanted was a complex personal drama to remind them of their own complex personal problems. It would be a long time before films like this would be made in America. But although Griffith had lost his audience, enough creative artists must have seen and been influenced by this film, because starting with films like Citizen Kane, we began to see films about difficult problems treated as stories that were personal to the characters involved and not as moral lessons.
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8/10
A Last Hurrah
George R. Willeman24 January 2002
By the time he made this film, Hollywood had D.W. Griffith right where they wanted him; a broken man. His studio was gone and he was selling out his UA shares--to make this film, I think. It's a shame that things went so wrong for him at this time, for it is evident in "The Struggle" that he was figuring out how to use this new sound gizmo. I was very impressed by his use of sound, almost Altman-like at times with overlapping dialogues. But, sadly, Hollywood had moved beyond DW, and didn't need or want him around anymore. This film is not the calibre of "Broken Blossoms" or "Intolerance", but it's a fine effort on a small scale from one of filmdom's greats.
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7/10
Clumsy but touching.
geraldinehawkins6 April 2007
I'm glad to see that the previous comments have been charitable. It's interesting that Griffith was filming the same type of story back in 1909 at Biograph. There are several characteristic Griffith touches in this film -- for instance, the tenderness of the wife when her husband first comes home drunk to her, and in the penultimate scene at his bedside. I'm sorry this picture never had a general release because it is well worth seeing. Chaplin made a silent film as late as 1931; perhaps Griffith should have taken a chance and done that with "The Struggle," because it may have worked better as a silent. References are made to the early days of Griffith's career in the opening scenes of the film; 1911 would seem to have been more remote to a 1931 audience than, perhaps, 1987 seems to us today. A fascinating film.
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The perils of hooch
utgard1427 July 2017
D.W. Griffith's final film is a talkie remake of a silent short made early in his career. It's a morality play about a man's struggle with alcoholism. Interesting subject matter, ahead of its time in some ways, but probably not the kind of thing Depression-era audiences were looking to see to escape from their troubles. Today, it's a real creaker but has a lot to recommend about it. Hal Skelly, who had a short film career before dying in a tragic car/train collision in 1934, gives an impressive performance in the lead. Zita Johann, a year away from her biggest movie role in The Mummy, makes her film debut here. She gives a subtle turn as the put-upon wife (the last of Griffith's heroines who have it rough because of the crappy men in their life). Edna Hagan, who plays Skelly and Johann's daughter, is also really good. It's a fine movie, although not without its flaws. The ending is the biggest negative, in my opinion. I can overlook the creaks and groans but I don't care for happy endings when they feel unearned. Everything in the film up to that point screamed tragedy. It just felt like a cop-out.
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5/10
Interesting movie about the struggle against alcoholism...
dwpollar22 January 2010
1st watched 1/21/2010 – 5 out of 10 (Dir-D.W. Griffith): Interesting movie about the struggle against alcoholism that doesn't quite hit the mark due to it's lack of showing us how the battle can be won. The story is about a good-ole boy named Jimmy, played by Hal Skelly, who doesn't like to put the juice down until he meets his to-be wife. She persuades him to stop drinking if they get married and he does OK until after their first child is born and then he falls back into his same old ways. He loses his job, his family, and practically his life until he's rescued again by his wife. The movie shows how dependent family members are on the alcoholics and how difficult it is for the addicted to change his ways, but it doesn't make it clear how things can change. Things just kind of get better in the movie eventually and we know this doesn't happen in real life. A valiant effort by renowned silent movie director D.W. Griffith but there doesn't seem to be a clear focus on the purpose of the film and therefore it doesn't all quite jell. He drifts from an initial focus on the prohibition to eventually being a more personal movie but never quite aces either one. The quick ending kind of ruins what could have been an important piece of film about this disease instead it's just an OK film about this struggle.
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5/10
Good idea, but stiffly filmed, and a bit uncomplicated for a drama
secondtake12 December 2014
The Struggle (1931)

There is one main reason to see this film—it is D.W. Griffith's last. Whatever horrors he is responsible for supporting the KKK in "Birth of a Nation," he was a maverick, a brilliant innovator. This is the end of the line, twenty years after he got going full steam.

The theme here is so prominent it almost dwarfs the plot—drinking. And getting drunk. The first example of a woman being drunk at a party is almost laughable, at least to those of us who have seen more than one person who has drunk "too much."

The filming here is typical Griffith, and he moves the story through the very years of his career, and the scenes update from the teens to the twenties to the "present," meaning 1931, a year or so before the end of Prohibition. You can make a case, I think, for some kind of radical fracturing of the plot, with a whole slew of characters and story lines started in the beginning of the movie and never followed up. It avoids normal linear storytelling.

It's tough to compare to other movies from 1931—this was still generally a rough time for the movie industry getting used to sound, but we are starting to see masterful meldings of visual and aural components, along with the consistency of acting and plot. The camera doesn't do much moving, and the sound is sometimes muddled or coarse, but you can rise above the limitations and see glimmers of both brilliance and depth. Truly—glimmers I mean. This isn't a brilliant movie.

There is a pretty linear downward trend here, and almost predictable. And the scenes are increasingly simple, showing interior rooms from one point of view. What holds it up at the best moments is some intense acting (the little girl, among the brightest spots). But it's no masterpiece, and could easily be avoided on your watch list.
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6/10
A Strangely Old Fashioned Movie For 1931.....
kidboots27 September 2010
....when you consider some of the other movies for the year - "The Public Enemy", "Bad Girl", "The Maltese Falcon", "Waterloo Bridge", and that "The Struggle" was released in December of that year. Like the other reviewers, I was a bit hesitant to watch it - the last time I saw it was in the early 70s, at a film society and the only information I could find out about it then was in Anthony Slide's book "The Griffith Actresses" and he spent the article vigorously defending it against what critics had said when it was first released. They hated it and apparently there was even laughter in the first night audience. They called it old fashioned and criticized the banal dialogue - by 1931 Griffith was finished in Hollywood and critics were not going to view "The Struggle" with an unbiased eye. From the moralizing forward to the fact that there didn't seem much of a reason for Jimmy's descent into Hell, shows why it wasn't a success at the time. Sure, the depression was on but the public probably didn't want to be reminded of what, to many families (according to the forward) was a too real problem.

The movie took a sermonizing, finger shaking view. The prologue didn't seem to serve a purpose - except to show off the overlapping dialogue technique and to show that people were getting drunk (it was 1911) even before prohibition. 1923 - Zita Johann plays Florrie, a typical Griffith heroine, sweet, innocent and believing in her man - Jimmy (Hal Skelly), who, even before they marry, is considered the life of the party. The thing I found hard to swallow was that there was no huge crisis that happened for Jimmy to fall off the wagon. Of course, before his marriage he takes "the pledge" and they have several happy years, before a bar-tender's snide remark at his drink of choice - sarsaparilla, causes him to go on a bender. In another scene the thought of having to wear a lavender tie causes him to miss his sister's engagement for a night on the town. The best scene, in my opinion, is Hal Skelly's bout of the D.Ts - his was the best performance in the movie. I believe he could have developed into a great character actor, if he had lived. Zita Johann had been recruited from Broadway, where, along with Clark Gable, she had appeared in the play "Machinal", but in this movie, she looked very new and obviously wasn't a natural for the movies. (She only made a few, including "The Mummy" before she returned to the stage). Most of the performances seemed stiff and lacking in the direction that Griffith should have provided. Helen Mack made her debut as a "catty" girl at the engagement party and Evelyn Baldwin, who became Mrs. D.W. Griffith in 1936 played Jimmy's sister, Nan.
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7/10
An Interesting Descent
Dimitrios04154 March 2015
A very well made film from start to finish, it is rather solid all the way through, but it is nothing that screams "revolutionary" by any means. An interesting plot following the descent of a man into deep brooding alcoholism, it is by no means a pleasant film, with a rather dark subject matter, but that is where the appeal comes from. It touches a topic, that at the time, was an extreme issue, and can still be debated now if it's as bad as it was before. The last film D.W. Griffith did, it came under scathing criticism at its original release. Now the film has kind of sweetened with age, making the simple plot, seem a bit more deep. Many look at the film as Griffith's own rationalization on how things went for him. His change from the start of his career to now. Some critics have called it a last ditch effort by a broken man about a man breaking. That can sum it up very well, the tale of how Griffith had to make this film is enough of a sad tale to make you feel a bit sad, it came to major scrutiny by the public due to the depression, making no one want to see a complex drama making them look into themselves. They wanted escape, not return. A fair watch, if you have some spare time, and feel like watching something a bit deep, this is a good pick.
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5/10
The Struggle Review
hagen235710 February 2015
The 1931 film, "The Struggle" touches on an issue that many families even today face; alcoholism. The newly married couple of Jimmie and Floria seem to be enjoying their young, peaceful lives until an undesirable habit of Jimmie's past comes back to haunt him. His marriage and family life soon become questioned and may not ever return to normal unless he achieves sobriety. Personally, I wasn't a big fan of this movie. Although it was a simple movie with a simple message, not a whole lot was happening and was basically filmed in only two separate rooms. The acting was sub par and the dialogue was often corny. I was also skeptical of the overall message. I understand that this movie was showing that drinking can lead to disaster but Jimmie wasn't even an every day drinker. Often times when we hear of alcoholics, we think of people who binge drink every day which was not necessarily what Jimmie was. However, I do believe this movie is slightly significant solely because of a message portraying that bad things happen to those who drink heavily.
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6/10
pretty good
DaquanW19 February 2015
this movie really bugged me out. I didn't really get why this mad got into drinking so heavy. his wife did everything for him, cooked, cleaned, stayed home to watch the kid while he worked, and took care of him. what was going on in his life that caused him o drink so drastically I didn't get it. the way he was drinking you would think his jobs sucks, he has a crappy marriage or something. but everything was perfect she worshiped the ground he walked on , constantly forgiving him every single time he messed up. unless there was something happening that they didn't show on screen I honestly think this guy just didn't like life. like he drank until what I believed to be him loosing his eye sight like his daughter would be right in his face and he would ask "where are you?" was that because he was too drunk or sick?
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Griffith's Final
Michael_Elliott26 February 2008
Struggle, The (1931)

** 1/2 (out of 4)

D.W. Griffith's final movie received terrible reviews upon release and died a very painful death at the box office so needless to say, this was the final nail in Griffith's directing coffin. In the film, a man (Hal Skelly) agrees to stop drinking after the woman (Zita Johann) of his dreams agrees to marry him. This deal works for about seven years but then the man hits the bottle again and soon has his life spinning out of control. As you can see, The Lost Weekend certainly wasn't the first film to take a hard look at alcoholism and even Griffith made several shots about the subject. It's easy to see why this film bombed back in the day but the story plays somewhat better today. However, like many of Griffith's later films, there are signs of brilliance in a few scenes but overall the film just doesn't really work. The worst thing about the movie is that it looks and feels like something Griffith would have made in 1910. Had Griffith changed with the times then there's no telling what he could have done but he was never able to do this. Another problem is that the start of the film is pretty dull and the energy Griffith can provide doesn't show up until the final third of the film. With that said, there's still a lot to enjoy here but the best thing is the performance by Skelly. He goes through various changes throughout the movie from a fun drunk to a non-drinker to a raging alcoholic and he pulls off every step without a hitch. Griffith himself has several scenes that really hit home and pack nice punches ala his early days. One is a party sequence where the husband returns drunk. The way Griffith shows the wife's embarrassment is very hard hitting. Another great sequence is when the husband finally hits rock bottom. The use of lighting and the director's touch makes this a very emotionally devastating scene. Another nice touch is an early scene that takes place in 1911. In the film a group of drinkers are talking about movies and brings up Biograph and Mary Pickford. It seems that even after twenty years Griffith was still mad at Pickford.
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3/10
Dust off those cobwebs....
MartinHafer23 November 2012
In the 1910s, there were many short films about the evils of demon drink--such as D.W. Griffith's "What Drink Did". These films were NOT in the least subtle and invariably showed a nice family man becoming a horrible brute...all due to his taking a drink of alcohol. It's not surprising in light of these films that there was a push to make alcohol illegal--eventually culminating in Prohibition.

More than two decades later, Griffith has dusted off the cobwebs and created a full-length sound version of one of these morality plays. While the film is much more sophisticated than these early silents, for sound films they were still VERY dated---with very, very broad acting and the simplest of stories. In "The Struggle" a guy likes to drink but gives it all up for his fiancée. He's good at his promise for several years and lives a successful sober life. Then, on a lark, he takes a drink and it's a long, long slide into oblivion. But, since the film is much longer than the older ones, you get a chance to see the guy eventually work his way out and by the end, all is well.

Had the film had better acting, direction and a better script, Griffith could have gone on to better things. Unfortunately, the film was seen at the time as very dated and the film was a bust--and was Griffith's last full-length film as a result. It is interesting how this great director was at the forefront of innovation in the 1910s--now in the 30s, he was hopelessly behind the and mired in dated ideas. It also didn't help with the confusing prologue which seemed to say perhaps Prohibition was the cause of rampant alcoholism--the exact opposite of what they'd been arguing two decades earlier!! Probably not worth your time unless you are a film historian or insist on seeing everything Griffith directed.
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4/10
A Drunkard's Reformation
Richard Chatten10 August 2016
Warning: Spoilers
'The Struggle' is familiar to most film enthusiasts only as the rather intriguing-sounding title that ended D.W.Griffith's filmography with a whimper. That Griffith had been left foundering by the industry that he had once led is only too painfully apparent if one is familiar with pacy productions from the same year like 'The Public Enemy, 'Monkey Business' and 'Five Star Final'. Harry Alan Potamkin wrote at the time that Griffith "has collected all his weaknesses into one film", the film was laughed off screens within days, vanished for decades and wasn't included in last summer's Griffith season at the BFI on London's South Bank. (Luckily YouTube has once again come to the rescue).

'The Struggle' begins with an idyllic sunlit prologue deliberately evocative of Griffith's own salad days as a director twenty years earlier in 1911, when the ale flowed freely; but sadly not everyone could hold it. There follows a jump to 1923, when Prohibition is plainly not making the blindest bit of difference to plenty of people's enthusiasm for booze. The film's foreword had described 'The Struggle' as "a powerful indictment of bootleg liquor, emphasizing its devastating effect on American Youth" - and this sequence draws our attention to that fact that the it's not so much the drinking per se that's the problem, so much as that what they're consuming is toxic, illicitly manufactured muck rather than brewed under license. Which may possibly be the real reason for the adverse effect it has on the mental equilibrium of our hero, Jimmie Wilson, who is introduced as one of those present imbibing most enthusiastically; but who swears off when he proposes marriage. Anyone who has seen 'Days of Wine and Roses' will have a fairly good idea of what is now coming; since by 1931 prohibition had obviously failed and alcoholism remained a major problem in the United States (Griffith himself was a heavy drinker).

Unfortunately, after this witty extended prologue, Anita Loos' hand in the script becomes far less apparent; and Griffith seems to have forgotten almost everything he once knew about composition and editing. The film is well acted - and is enhanced by some of that pre-Production Code zing - but scene after scene unfolds filmed almost entirely in long shot, with remarkably few close-ups. Finally, about fifteen minutes from the end, Griffith eventually takes the camera briefly out into the Bronx with a bit of perfunctory cross-cutting when Jimmie becomes delirious, turns into Mr. Hyde and goes crazy. (The vaguely expressionist design of the shabby room in which he has wound up, atmospherically lit, considerably enhances the visual impact of this sequence). Fortunately - if very abruptly - all is resolved happily; with a rather improbable conclusion reminiscent of 'The Last Laugh'.
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suffocating
mukava99126 July 2015
It's no wonder that "The Struggle" flopped when released in late 1931. Even for that time it was considered stagey and out of date. When you consider that it was the work of veteran innovator D.W. Griffith it's all the more surprising that it is so humdrum in cinematic technique. It's about a factory worker (Hal Skelly) who struggles with alcohol addiction, gradually alienating his wife (Zita Johann) and daughter and sliding into impoverishment and dementia. Skelly is excellent as the drunk, as great a physical actor as he was in "The Dance of Life" a couple of years earlier. Johann seems uncomfortable. In general the direction of the actors, particularly the timing of their dialogue, is stiff. The scenes where Skelly hits rock bottom in a dark hovel are hideously effective but even the lighter scenes are dreary, taking place in drab apartments, barrooms and work places. The daily life of the characters as depicted in these scenes would drive anyone to drink.
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3/10
An Easily Forgettable Film
Cinemarker11 March 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Released during the Great Depression The Struggle deals with a topic that was highly prevalent during the time: Alcoholism. For a film directed by the same man (D.W Griffith) that did The Birth of a Nation, The Struggle was a let down to say the least. The movie was slowed paced and drawn out a lot longer than it should have been. The acting was stiff and a let down compared to other films of the time. Jimmie's descent into alcoholism was strange as well, although one typically doesn't need a reason to have a problem with alcohol, it typically happens after a bad event or a bad life. Jimmie's life seems fine from my perspective for the most part, his wife and family all love him and he is doing pretty well for the time. This is a movie that is as simple as it comes and is quite a let down when watched.
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