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Man's Castle is a wonderful example of a Pre-Code film. It involves
realistic events with truly enjoyable and imperfect characters. Spencer
Tracy plays Bill, a free soul without a dime in his pocket. He makes a
living doing odd jobs and traveling to a new city when he gets bored of
his surroundings. One night, he meets Trina, a beauty by any standards
who is cold and alone. She has refused to resort to prostitution so she
has not eaten for several days, but the two take very well to each
other and form a relationship. His free spirit tempts him to leave her,
so life is rocky, but there is a true spark between the two, even if
they live in a shack by the river.
Tracy is one of the great actors of the silver screen. His characters are amazing and relatable. We can see his thoughts on his face, making him easy to identify with, even if we believe he is behaving badly. Young is great in pre-code films. Her character is very sweet but far from perfect, making her all the more likable.
Pre-code elements include skinny dipping, pregnancy before marriage, and crime.
Although this rarely seen film is not available on video, and has not
been shown on cable that I am aware of, it is a classic which deserves
the light of day. Spencer Tracy, before his MGM years and major
stardom, was teamed with Loretta Young, one of the major stars of the
early 30's, and sparks were united.
Tracy is a rough and tough shanty town character who takes in down on her luck Young. Slightly mistreating her, Tracy is on the verge of leaving her when she drops a bombshell that will change their lives. Also around are Marjorie Rambeau as a drunken neighbor with a heart of gold (and giving a very sensitive performance), Glenda Farrell as a singer who turns Tracy's head, and Walter Connelly as another neighbor who becomes a father-like figure to the two.
The camera work and settings are rough and gritty, almost like a Warner Brothers film. However, this was made at Columbia, then a second-rate "B" studio which was most known at the time for its string of films directed by Frank Capra (usually starring Barbara Stanwyck). It is short and sweet (66 minutes according to Leonard Maltin), and very moving. I agree with Maltin's comment that Tracy's character was a bit much to take at times, but it is evident that he hides many facets behind his hard exterior.
Young, never one of my favorites, was at her best in the early 30's before she became too "lady-like". Even though her character is sweet and vulnerable, she is far more realistic than she got in her more esteemed years after winning the Oscar for "The Farmer's Daughter". Farrell is fine in her few scenes, but has little to do. It's a shame that this very talented lady never rose above the line of secondary roles or leads in "B" features. If "A Man's Castle" makes its way onto cable (or with some miracle, home video), I highly recommend it to film students and historians.
Unfortunately, this film has long been unavailable (as other posters have noted), but this is one of the essential dramas of the Great Depression, a lyrical and touching drama of love set in a shanty-town. It features performances by Spencer Tracy and Loretta Young that are just about the finest of their careers, and it's a surpassing example of how the director, Frank Borzage, was able to create an almost fairy-tale aura around elements of poverty, crime, and horrendous social inequity, which just proves that how truly romantic and spiritual his talents were. This film shows how love survives amidst squalor and desperate need, and it is totally life-affirming. This is a real masterpiece of the period, and is a movie that deserves to be more widely known.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Man's Castle" is one of the most important American films of the 1930s. As Andrew Sarris has noted, it's one of the few films that was able to capture the emotional nuances of the Depression. Borzage's sweet, ethereal love story concerns a tough-guy Bill (Spencer Tracy) and penniless girl Trina (Loretta Young) who are incurably optimistic lovers. They setup house together in a squalid shanty town. Their romance transcends, in Borzage's spiritual vision, the Depression and worst possible squalor. Borzage typically championed the proletariat no better than in this film with the tease of material success at the very beginning of the film with Tracy's self-indulgent character and then challenge to the audience to accept a different set of circumstances. What impressed me the most about "Man's Castle" was Loretta Young. She actually became that character Trina. Her devotion and innocence are heartbreaking. Not to mention she carries Bill's unborn baby, and it would be a crime if he doesn't return the love she expresses to him. Bill loves Trina but he does it in a tough or bullying manner that almost becomes annoying. One of the most moving moments in the film occurs when he buys her a stove that she always wanted to get. She couldn't believe it and falls down on his knees and cries. Bill cannot help but moved by what he did. Despite his tough mannerisms, he ultimately succumbs to Trina's fragility, as they ride the freight train at the end, transcending the Depression and its harshness.
It's a shame this movie is so hard to get your hands on in the US. I
found it through a rare video dealer, and it was certainly worth it.
This is, without a doubt, the best film made during the pre-code era,
and the finest film of the 1930s. Masterful director Frank Borzage made
wonderful films about the Depression, and with MAN'S CASTLE he created
a fairy tale amidst the hardships of the era.
Loretta Young and Spencer Tracy have a wonderful chemistry between them, and they help make this movie a wonderful romance. Young's Trina is sweet and hopeful, while Tracy's Bill is gruff and closed-off. The dynamic between the character creates one of the most difficult, but in the end rewarding relationships on film.
MAN'S CASTLE is the most soft-focus pre-code film I've seen. Borzage uses the hazy and dreamy technique to turn the squatter's village where Bill and Trina live into a palace. The hardships of the Depression are never ignored, in fact they're integral to the film. But as Borzage crafts the film as a soft focus fairy tale, the love between the characters makes the situation seem less harsh. It makes the film warm and affectionate.
MAN'S CASTLE is the crowning achievement of the pre-code era. If only more people could see it.
I generally find Loretta Young hard to take, too concerned with her looks and too ladylike in all the wrong ways. But in this lyrical Frank Borzage romance, and even though she's playing a low-self-esteem patsy who puts up with entirely too much bullying from paramour Spencer Tracy, she's direct and honest and irresistible. It's an odd little movie, played mostly in a one-room shack in a Hooverville, unusually up-front about the Depression yet romantic and idealized. Tracy, playing a blustery, hard-to-take "regular guy" who would be an awful chauvinist and bully by today's standards, softens his character's hard edge and almost makes him appealing. There's good supporting work from Marjorie Rambeau and Glenda Farrell (who never got as far as she should have), and Jo Swerling's screenplay is modest and efficient. But the real heroes are Borzage, who always liked to dramatize true love in lyrical close-up, and Young. You sort of want to slap her and tell her character to wise up, she's too good for this guy, but she's so dewy and persuasive, you contentedly watch their story play out to a satisfying conclusion.
This is very dated, but that's part of the charm with this 1933 movie.
You can say the same for most Pre-Code films; they're just different,
and usually in an interesting way.
It was the short running time, the great acting of Spencer Tracy and the beautiful face and sweetness of Loretta Young's character which kept me watching and enjoying this stagy-but-intriguing film.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a nicer girl than "Trinna," played by the 20-year-old Young who was already into making her 50th movie! (She started acting as a small child. That, and the fact they made movies quickly back in the old days.) The camera, although in soft focus throughout much of the film, zoomed in on Loretta's face and eyes many times and I was mesmerized by her beauty.
Playing a crotchety man with a cynical outlook on life, Tracy's "Bill" slowly transformed into a loving man, thanks to Trinna. Spencer delivered his lines here with such naturalness that you hardly knew he was acting.
Although they have small roles, supporting actors Walter Connolly, Marjorie Rambeau, Arthur Hohl and Glenda Farrell leave lasting impressions long after viewing this 75-minute film. I was particularly fascinated with Connolly's role as the minister/father figure of the camp.
The story is a little far-fetched but - hey - that's the movies. This story is about two lonely Great Depression victims trying to survive in a "Hooverville"-type camp and it winds up to be a very touching tale.
As other reviewers have noted, this is an unjustly neglected
Depression-era film. Directed by Frank Borzage (two Oscars) and written
by Jo Swerling (Leave Her to Heaven, The Westerner, Lifeboat, etc.), it
is a tough-minded, well-structured and -realized move about denizens of
a New York City shantytown. They're grifters, beggars, and women forced
into prostitution, but they're a community of people both good and bad,
with loyalties as complex as any group's.
Perhaps primary among this movie's many admirable qualities is the contrast between Spencer Tracy's character, Bill, and Loretta Young's Trina. He tough-talking, physically aggressive, and evidently fearless-- but Bill is not the character who gives this film its steely sense of survival. While he blusters, Trina actually hangs tough (if that term can be applied to a character so ladylike). Her devotion to him is obvious, and complete. When she becomes pregnant, she says she will raise it herself if he wants to leave. Such is the dignity of Loretta Young's performance (at age 20) as a very simple, even simple-minded character, that she seems neither weak or dependent, but rather a woman who recognizes happiness when she finds it, and love, and who has learned the hard way that it's worth holding on to because it doesn't come around often. nothing more.
I'd never even remotely heard of this one when I came upon it. This one
seems similar to My Man Godfrey. The big difference being the comedy
part that this one doesn't have.
A poor and hungry Loretta Young sits next to a poor but content Spencer Tracy on a park bench. He finds out she's starving and takes her in and shows her the ropes around his home in a shanty town. Even though life is tough in the depression he makes it easy on her and always seems to put her mind at ease when food and money are low. He's always taking one odd job after another. Eventually he falls in love with her but he's not a guy who likes to hold on to things or to be tied down. He's always ready to move on. Problem is though, he never does. The trials and tribulations of a poor couple during the midst of the depression is the basic premise for the rest of the film. How to get money and living around a few characters in the same situation they live in. Trying to make the right moral decisions and doing the right thing.
This one is worth a watch because Spencer Tracy makes any film he does very watchable. He's basically the same in all films but he, like Clark Gable, could play every different role the same and you still wanna watch it. Loretta Young is as beautiful as she always was and plays the poor little starving but thankful girl just right. Grab this one and watch a tiny glimpse of what the depression was like at the time this was made. After this, try Meet John Doe and see a better film on a similar topic.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Man's Castle" is one of those films that ought to be better known.
Bill (Spencer Tracy) is a restless unemployed man who rides the rails whenever he feels the world closing in on him. He helps a homeless woman (Loretta Young) who says she's strong enough to accept his walking out at any time.
As he becomes increasingly attached, he shows his commitment by buying her a proper stove to cook on, and rejecting the advances of a wealthy singer. She submits to his (unseen) advances and becomes pregnant. ("Man's Castle" was made in 1933, a year before the Code began to be strictly enforced.)
The performances are uniformly good-to-excellent, especially Tracy's and Walter Connolly's (a once-minister working as a night watchman). Frank Borzage's direction is spot-on.
If nothing else, "Man's Castle" is a model of good storytelling -- moderately complex characters (the principals, anyway) of varying points of view; strong conflicts; "show us, don't tell us"; the characters in bad situations so we learn who they really are -- you know the rest.
Everything is solid until the last five minutes, when it all collapses in a flood of melodramatic sentimentality that wipes out the (sort-of) plausible story that came before. Instead of Bill taking his lumps, he and Trina hop a freight into an unknown future they're certain will turn out "happily ever after". Why? They have each other, and an unborn baby. As awful as this is, it cannot completely undo the good impression made by the rest of the film.
I watched "Man's Castle" the morning of 4/30/2016 on getTV. At 78 minutes, it appears to be the complete version, not the censored 66-minute version released in 1938.
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