"A Hundred Years from Today"
Music by Victor Young
Lyrics by Joe Young and Ned Washington
Played on a radio and sung by an unidentified man
Played also on a record and often as background music See more »
STRAIGHT IS THE WAY (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1934), directed by Paul Sloane, might have been an appropriate title for some educational film in driving school class, but actually a mild melodrama of an ex-con's determination to reform, in other words, not being crooked but "going straight," for that "straight is the way." Taken from a 1927 stage play, "Four Walls" by Dale Burnett and George Abbott starring Paul Muni, the story was soon transformed to the silent screen by MGM (1928) featuring an impressive cast of John Gilbert, Joan Crawford and Carmel Myers. With many stage productions retold for the motion picture screen, as well as the remaking old silents with the use of sound, STRAIGHT IS THE WAY is no exception. Bearing a new title and cast consisting of Franchot Tone, Karen Morley and Gladys George in the Gilbert, Myers and Crawford roles, the plot remains basically the same.
As the camera tracks through the streets and tenements of Manhattan's lower east side (a common practice found in many openings of the "East Side Kids" film series in the 1940s), the introduction to characters begins as Mrs. Horowitz (May Robson) patiently awaiting for her son, Benny (Franchot Tone) as he returns home after serving time in prison. Bertha (Karen Morley), whom Benny has known since childhood, also comes over to the Horowitz home for this special day. As for Benny, described as an avid book reader who ended up with the wrong assortment of friends with crimes that landed him in prison, he's now a free man with every intention in starting a whole new life. Benny finds the old gang, consisting of Monk (Jack LaRue), to have taken over the leadership as well as his old flame, Shirley (Gladys George). This doesn't matter to Benny with every intention on leaving everything in the past, especially Shirley, who makes every effort to double cross Monk and win Benny over, even to a point of moving into his building to be closer to him. As time passes, Benny finds employment hard to obtain but manages to get one in a garage. Working under Pop Slavko, he discovers he's being harassed for paying protection money to Monk, but manages to get Monk to "lay off." Later when Benny is caught in an embrace with Shirley on the rooftop by Monk, an fight leading to a fatal accident occurs. With Shirley as the lone witness, her testimony can either clear or send Benny back to prison for murder by Sullivan (C. Henry Gordon), an officer who originally placed Benny under arrest.
While the product of this drama rests entirely on Franchot Tone's characterization, the film suggests viewers to accept him as either Jewish or a natural born leader who once headed a powerful gang. Being unconvincing at both aspects, through Sloane's direction, Tone somehow plays his role with capable assurance. It's a wonder how STRAIGHT IS THE WAY might have appeared had the Benny character been awarded to Paul Muni reprising his stage performance in a loan-out assignment from Warners. Probably with more conviction from Muni's point of view.
There's also noble support by May Robson as the lovingly Jewish mother and Karen Morley's performance of a loyal good-natured girlfriend that's almost a carbon copy to her devoted wife portrayal of Mary Sims in King Vidor's OUR DAILY BREAD (United Artists, 1934). Interestingly, John Qualen, who appeared in OUR DAILY BREAD, is also seen here as one of the neighbors whose wife is expecting a baby. Others in the cast include Nat Pendleton (Skippy); William Bakewell (Doctor Wilkes); and Raymond Hatton (Mr. Mendel). Next to Robson, the one who's performance should gather much attention is Gladys George. A stage actress with some silent movies to her resume, STRAIGHT IS THE WAY is virtually unknown among her screen credits. In fact, her Academy Award nominated performance of VALIANT IS THE WORD FOR CARRIE (Paramount, 1936) is often categorized as her motion picture debut. Physically resembling the mannerism of Wynne Gibson and appearance of Mae West, her raspy voice fitting into her "tough babe" persona was not so much evident here as it was in her future film roles. George would work again with Tone in another melodrama, THEY GAVE HIM A GUN (1937) and once more in the comedy, LOVE IS A HEADACHE (1938), but of all her screen roles, who could ever forget her Panama Smith that has left a lasting impression in the crime drama, THE ROARING TWENTIES (Warners, 1939) starring James Cagney.
Lots of heavy sentiment with underscoring possibly lifted from FOUR WALLS (1928), STRAIGHT IS THE WAY, clocked at 59 minutes, is satisfactory to some degree. A straightforward story with one brief song, "One Hundred Years From Now," is certainly one to consider whenever this rarely revived old-style melodrama turns up on Turner Classic Movies. (**1/2)
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