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Jimmy is drafted and ends up in Fred's troop on his way to Europe. Jimmy becomes vicious with his gun, wins a medal, and weds Fred's nurse girlfriend, Rose. Back home years later, Rose discovers Jimmy is a gangster, has him arrested, and finds a job in Fred's circus as Jimmy escapes, determined to kill Fred. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sandwiched in between San Francisco and Captains Courageous two of Spencer Tracy's greatest parts is this very curious film about war and the effects it has on some people. They Gave Him A Gun stars Spencer Tracy and Franchot Tone in the only film they ever made together and Gladys George as the woman who loves them both.
Tracy and Tone are a couple of World War I draftees, Tone is a weak character who almost goes over the hill in boot camp, but Tracy stops him. Tracy is still playing the lovable blowhard, younger Wallace Beery type that MGM envisioned for him when they signed him away from Fox.
Over at the front Tone gets an opportunity and takes it when during a fight he manages to get to a church tower that peers down on a German machine gun nest. He's learned to shoot by now and he does a Sergeant York. But Alvin C. York was never changed by the war the way Tone has.
Wounded in the fight Tone convalesces at a hospital with Gladys George looking out for him. Tracy goes AWOL himself to visit his pal and he and George get something going. Later on when Tracy is reported missing in action, Tone and George marry. Tracy's brokenhearted when he comes back and learns of the marriage, but takes sit in stride.
The rest of the film is dealing with Tone applying the the wartime skills he's learned to the gangster trade. He's a hit-man now and George doesn't really know what he does for a living. I think you can figure the rest out.
The part of the film that gave me some trouble is that I can't believe Gladys George couldn't figure it out. She's a street smart girl, her part is very much like the one she played in The Roaring Twenties opposite James Cagney.
Speaking of The Roaring Twenties, Humphrey Bogart's character development there is similar to Tone's although he was not the central character of the movie. In fact there are elements of They Gave Him A Gun that are to be found in Taxi Driver and in Clint Eastwood's classic, The Unforgiven.
The World War I battle sequences are very well staged by director Woody Van Dyke. For some reason Leonard Maltin panned this film, I think it's a lot better than he gave it credit.
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