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Douglas Fairbanks Jr.,
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Olivia de Havilland,
Edward Everett Horton
At the end of the world war, several German soldiers return home to their city to find the social fabric and civil order disintegrating as communist gangs roam the streets and food and jobs become scarce. Riots and massacres lead the erstwhile average men to become cynical and desperate. Written by
In the film Gods and Monsters, Ian McKellen wonderfully plays Whale recalling his hatred of making this film, the film Whale intended to be the crowning achievement of his career.
The first world war was still close to Whale as he made this film nearly 20 years after it ended. Whale intended the film end with a more sarcastic touch of showing the Nazis as war mongers, warping the minds of youths, but the final cut of this film was taken out of his hands.
The Road Back has some signature Whale touches. Yes, the camera dollies through a wall from outside on a street to the inside of a building, following a character entering it. Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan, Lionel Atwill and a few other Whale favorites play minor characters with character. He had his usual crew of Ted Kent editing, John Mescall shooting, John Fulton with special effects and the great Charles D. Hall as set designer. You would expect a horror film with all these names. Yet the film does not stand up next to his horror films, nor to Show Boat, Kiss Before the Mirror or Waterloo Bridge. It is a notch below.
It's hard to tell how much of it has to do with the editing. There were also completely unnecessary comedy scenes that did not belong that I understand were re-shot by the orders of studio head Charles D. Rogers, a man who clearly knew nothing of the studio he had taken over from the Laemmles.
Even if Whale had final cut, this film seems like its' story somewhat misses the mark. It works and is an admirable picture, but it seems to lack the scope that would have given it more power. The characters talk about how the war changes them, but we are shown very little of HOW they changed. They seem unhappy, but there is no real emotion. They too often seem like mouthpieces for Whale's beliefs and not like real people. It would have been a better film if it expanded on the souls of the characters and been a half hour longer or so. It probably would have actually moved faster than it does. We go from the war to the classroom to the bars and to the courtroom and it just seems to want to become an epic, but it can't.
Still, this film is worth watching, especially for Whale fans who want to see his last solid, good film. He was never again to be as creative or interested in his stories.
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