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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.
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.
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.
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.
The Struggle (1931)
There is one main reason to see this filmit 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 plotdrinking. 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 1931this 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. Trulyglimmers 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.
*** This review may contain 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
pacey 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'.
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.
*** This review may contain 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.
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.
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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