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Snappy film that looks and feels like a Warners film, this MGM film
bristles with sexual tension. John Gilbert is terrific as the
construction worker who tangles with smart dame Mae Clarke and pal
Gilbert had his problems at MGM with LB Mayer, but his talent shines thru the rotten films they assigned him. And this film is a perfect example. It's a B film about the loves and lives of menial workers but Gilbert makes it an event. He's confident, sexy, and terrific as the worker who falls into the clutches of a "working girl." The three stars are quite good. The supporting cast includes Herman Bing, Sterling Holloway, Vince Barnett, Bob Burns, Nora Cecil, and Virginia Cherrill.
As mentioned elsewhere, this film finished off Gilbert's contract with MGM. Mayer had done his best to ruin Gilbert's career by assigning him bad films, but Gilbert is really good in this film as well as THE PHANTOM OF Paris and DOWNSTAIRS.
Two steelworker buddies are real FAST WORKERS when it comes to
romancing & dumping the women in their lives - until a loose lady with
a shady past shakes up their complacency & threatens their friendship.
According to cinematic legend, all the talkie MGM films starring John Gilbert were dreadful - the result of a bitter hatred between Gilbert (the highest paid star in Hollywood, with a $1.5 million contract) & studio boss Louis B. Mayer. A determination on Gilbert's part to fulfill the contract, and a campaign instituted by Mayer to destroy Gilbert's career - including spreading the rumor that Gilbert's voice was 'high & feminine', culminated in several unwatchable movies.
Not entirely true. The Studio had a huge financial investment in Jack Gilbert and was not going to completely cut its own throat by showcasing him in nothing but dreck. However, of the 8 MGM talkies in which he appeared as solo star (1929 - HIS GLORIOUS NIGHT; 1930 - REDEMPTION; WAY FOR A SAILOR; 1931 - GENTLEMAN'S FATE; THE PHANTOM OF Paris; WEST OF Broadway; 1932 - DOWNSTAIRS; 1933 - FAST WORKERS) most were certainly rather ghastly.
FAST WORKERS was a sad end to Gilbert's MGM contract. Although it boosts some fine moments in the alarmingly vertiginous opening scenes atop a skyscraper (for once using decent rear projection), back on the ground it descended into turgid romantics which were a waste of the stars' talents. Unattractive & depressing, the film could easily be subtitled The Tawdry Lives Of Unpleasant People.
Gilbert was always trying to push himself as an actor, attempting to produce the best performance possible. But the script and the cheap production values gives him no assistance. It is to Mayer's eternal shame that the actor who was the most popular male star at the end of the silent era and who made a great deal of money for MGM, should be treated in such a shabby, humiliating way at the end of his career.
The film was also a Studio letdown for director Tod Browning, who had helmed several splendid silent Lon Chaney shockers and whose talkies included the classics Dracula & FREAKS. His career would soon spiral into obscurity.
Robert Armstrong and a funny Sterling Holloway offer fine support to Gilbert, as do Mae Clarke, Muriel Kirkland, pretty Muriel Evans and unbilled Herman Bing & Nora Cecil, but it's all to no avail. The picture was doomed & John Gilbert was out the door, his contract expired.
It must be stated that there was nothing at all strange or unnaturally high about Gilbert's voice. As a matter of fact, it was of medium range & rather cultured & refined - which was the crux of the problem, of course. While it is possible that no voice could have ever matched the perfect one viewers heard in their minds while watching his strong, virile silent roles, the reality was very different from what they were expecting (imagine Robert Montgomery's voice coming out of Clark Gable's mouth). Gilbert was doomed from his first scene in his debut talkie; his war with Mayer only intensified the agony.
At Garbo's insistence, John Gilbert would return to MGM later in 1933 to appear as her love interest in QUEEN Christina, but she was the star and Gilbert received below-the-title billing. He would make only one more film - THE CAPTAIN HATES THE SEA for Columbia in 1934. Then he retired to his villa to live a life of drunken, sybaritic obsolescence. He was planning to return to the screen to costar with his last lover, Marlene Dietrich, in THE GARDEN OF ALLAH when he suddenly died on January 9, 1936 of heart failure, forgotten by most of his former fans. John Gilbert was only 36 years old.
Fast Workers (1933)
*** (out of 4)
Tod Browning directed film, which I'm going to guess will be my most shocking viewing of the year. Construction working buddies John Gilbert and Robert Armstrong spend the nightlife tracking down girls but Armstrong's got the habit of being hustled by the women. One night he meets one of these hustlers (Mae Clarke) but doesn't know what she's up to. Gilbert does know because he's seeing her on the side. I said this will be my most shocking viewing of the year because this film has one of the worst reputations of any film from the 1930s but I found myself really, really ejoying the film and getting completely caught up in its story. This is also rather shocking because I'm not that big of a fan of Browning's sound pictures. What really worked for me was the three stars who all give very good performances. I was really caught off guard by Gilbert because I had heard he wasn't that good in sound pictures but I found him very entertaining and charming here. Armstrong was very funny in his role and Clarke was giving several good scenes. This is a very strange film as it starts out as a comedy and then moves into a very mean spirited drama and then the director finishes it off like one of his horror films. A very strange film but I really enjoyed it. One of Gilbert's final pictures at MGM as he was to die three years later at the age of 36.
In some ways, this is like "La Chienne." The characters are simple,
Everyman-types. The characters are basically a guy, a girl, the guy's
buddy. The plot seems inevitable.
Tod Browning directed "Freaks" at just about the same time. How different from that this is! And Robert Armongstrong, very appealing as a kind of goofy loser here, played Carl Denham in "King Kong" the same year! Mae Clark, though she plays a tough, hard woman, is appealing. She is costumed interestingly against type. She doesn't look like a siren or a bad girl. She always wears a hat and an innocent looking suit. Though she is not kind of Armstrong, I don't think we're meant to dislike her.
The star is John Gilbert. He was such a good actor, too. He looks dissipated and considerably older than he was. But he is fully up to the admittedly somewhat rather minor demands of the role. What a shame that his career ended so badly and so soon after this came out!
Despite its being the work of seven different writers, "Fast Workers"
succeeds as an interesting and unusual story very well moved forward
with clever dialogue delivered by a large cast of great actors.
Mae Clarke was a welcome surprise. She was given a chance to perform and she did! Ms. Clarke was a uniquely attractive actress, who too often -- as in "Frankenstein" -- didn't have much to do except look pretty and react.
Here, though, she was a pivotal character, and boy did she grab hold and carry the part beautifully.
This one role should have boosted her to major stardom.
Robert Armstrong reached his pinnacle as the impresario in "King Kong," and seemed to play that type of character afterward. Here, though, he played something completely different and he too showed enough talent to prove to casting directors and audiences he should have also been a major star.
Sterling Holloway had what might have been his best part. Instead of the fey characters he did awfully well, he was a real person, one of the crew working the high iron, with a distinctive personality -- as had all the characters in this play-become-movie -- who seemed real (or at least movie real).
John Gilbert was first billed and was, at the time, still the biggest name in the cast. He didn't really still have the looks that had catapulted him into the highest galaxy of stars, but he did still have the talent.
And he did have the best line of the movie, the last.
"Fast Workers" was part of a 24-hour marathon of Mae Clarke films on Turner Classic Movies, presented 20 August 2015. This type of retrospective is exactly why The Good Lord gave us video recorders, to be able to save for more convenient times a whole day of motion picture history and entertainment.
Mae Clarke today is known mostly for getting a grapefruit smashed into her face, but anyone seeing more of her work has to be convinced she was a major talent and, therefore, should have been a major star and should be far better known today.
I highly recommend "Fast Workers."
I caught the last 45 minutes of the movie but really enjoyed it, it was
kinda sad since bucker really loved Mary but then again it seemed like
he was always falling in love fast, such as the nurse at the end of the
but its sad how Mary was taking his hard earned dough to pay for Mary's supposedly grandma's hospital bills, thats sad. It made me think wow people played games like that back in the 30's, i guess play as were always here since way back when.. but it made me think and realize that I need to be careful when meeting girls and realize that not all girls are what they seem to be and you cant make a girl fall for you just because you help her out and give her money.
I was especially touched when Bucky told gunner something like " see its good to save your cash because you never know when you can help a good girl and make her happy" that hit home because i see myself giving girls money more than i probably should and that scared me watching that scene because here is Bucky giving her money for her to spend with Gunnar..
I for one don't want to be used.. and it made me think that just because you give a girl money and truly do all you can for her don't mean you'll have her heart, funny most of the times, she'll be in love with someone who may not even give her a dime such is gunner..
that was a wake up call, so from now on, i'll watch my money a little more better and not be so quick to use offer money to get and keep a girl interested in me, i will make sure shes interested in me for me.. thats what this film taught me, this is something everyone knows already but after watching this film it really hit me in the face..
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What was bad news for John Gilbert was very good news for Robert
Armstrong and Mae Clark in "Fast Workers" which was a re-working of
MGM's earlier "Goldie" which had starred Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy.
A major star in silents, talkies found Gilbert adrift, having to prove
he had what it takes to get back on top with every picture. Now it is
quite clear that John Gilbert could have made a career as a sterling
character actor but back then no-one was interested and "Fast Workers"
saw his return to a conventional leading man part but with his two
co-stars getting all the attention. Initially Robert Armstrong was
typecast as a lovable larrikin but he steadily built up credentials as
tough talking managers, promoters etc, culminating in the memorable
movie maker from "King Kong".
"Gunner" Smith (Gilbert) and "Bucker" Reilly (Armstrong) are two staunch mates who work as riveters on a city skyscraper. They look out for each other and as far as dames go they have a pact that they will shield each other from any "gold digger" types. Enter Mary (Clarke, again sporting an unbecoming "mannish" hairdo) - a good time girl who knows all the answers!! She sets her claws into poor dumb "Bucker" who thinks she is as sweet as they come. Unbeknownst to him she is one of "Gunner's" old flames who still carries a torch for him. Mae Clarke is terrific as the "swell girl" beloved by both who is not above fleecing "Bucker" out of all his available cash. It is a tribute to Clarke that she can engage the audience in what is a very unsympathetic part.
Things take a dramatic turn when "Gunner" shows "Bucker" some cosy photos of him and Mary - he doesn't realise that Mary and "Bucker" have just tied the knot. "Bucker" thinks his world has come to an end and next day up on the girders.... but friendship prevails and while Mary is kicked to the curb, the buddies vow to look after each other in the same old way.
Even though Mae Clarke, along with Robert Armstrong, stole a lot of the movie's limelight, she was beginning to realise that the fame critics had predicted for her was not to be. Virginia Cherrill, who was Charlie Chaplin's blind girl in "City Lights" was the girl in the car who dropped Gilbert off at his building site.
After working on a New York City high-rise building, manly construction
worker John Gilbert (as Gunner Smith) goes out to a speakeasy with less
attractive pal Robert Armstrong (as Bucker Reilly). While making time
with an attached woman, Mr. Gilbert decks her companion and is brought
before the judge. Gilbert calls marriage-minded lover Mae Clarke (as
Mary) to help bail him out, not knowing she's about to fleece Mr.
Armstrong. Gilbert is the one she loves, but Ms. Clarke is tempted to
settle down and accept Armstrong's marriage proposal...
"Fast Workers" found Gilbert nearing the end of his movie career. This was his last film as a top-billed MGM star...
Director Tod Browning and the MGM crew make it look above average. As usual, Gilbert's appearance is better than the legendary stories about his demise. That the studio cared about making Gilbert sound masculine may be evidenced in having squeaky-voiced Sterling Holloway (as Pinky Magoo) given the largest supporting role. However, Gilbert's lack of interest or commitment shows in the mechanics; his collar has three positions in one scene, there is no shot of him after his character has a dramatic fall, and the ending is noticeably abrupt.
***** Fast Workers (1933-03-10) Tod Browning ~ John Gilbert, Robert Armstrong, Mae Clarke, Sterling Holloway
The early 30s fascination with high rise construction gives birth to
this film about two riveters and the dame they fall for. In an
otherwise forgettable script, John Gilbert and Mae Clarke give fine
performances. For Gilbert, this may be his finest sound film
performance, and it comes just prior to his death a few years later.
For Clarke, this is an excellent opportunity for her to show her
sexiness as well as her comedy skills.
Tod Browning as the director shows none of the considerable skills he displayed during his silent years. Nonetheless he keeps the film moving.
Robert Armstrong co-stars as a riveter. Interestingly enough he starred earlier the same year in "King Kong" which prominently featured the Empire State Building that had been completed in 1931.
Had this been a project for MGM it would have assigned Clark Gable and
Wallace Beery in the roles that John Gilbert and Robert Armstrong
played about a couple of riveters building those skyscrapers in
Manhattan. But instead this was an indication of how far Gilbert's
stock had fallen at MGM. Actually Armstrong fared worst than Gilbert
because his character was so dumbed down it was pathetic. Possibly
Wallace Beery could have carried it off.
What a racket Gilbert has and poor dumb Armstrong just goes along. If Armstrong meets a woman Gilbert moves in to 'protect' Armstrong from their wiles and clutches. The fact he's getting a lot of nookie in the interim doesn't faze Armstrong a bit.
It all works nicely until Mae Clarke enters the picture while Gilbert is doing a ten day stretch in jail. Armstrong marries the woman and Gilbert makes his moves without knowing that.
Some nice shots of the construction boom that was New York City back then. These riveters were never out of work, even in the Great Depression. Such folks as Bob Burns and Sterling Holloway are wasted in the kind of parts they normally play.
But the story is ridiculous. The film is based on an unproduced play called Riveters. I don't wonder why it wasn't produced.
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