When an uneducated sailor drifts in from the sea, he meets a girl from the upper class. He sets out for an education that surpasses her in every way only to find himself quite disillusioned by what he finds.
Six people come together in the Swiss Alps to climb a mountain, known as 'The White Tower,' which has never been climbed. While struggling together to conquer the obstacle, each climber shows his true worth, or lack of.
Glenn Ford gives a rousing performance as the title character. This was still early in his career, before the actor settled into his more familiar low-key film persona. But his spirit here is well placed since Eden has to struggle against social forces far stronger than he. Based on Jack London's autobiography, the screenplay shows how narrow the literary parameters were in London's day. Fiction served mainly as escapism for the leisure class and was a long way from the kind of raw reality Eden sought to portray. Naturally, the moneyed class didn't want to read about how tough life was for the industrial workingman. Thus, more familiar types of literary realism, such as London-Eden's, were generally suppressed. This is an important part of the screenplay and offers a glimpse of the barrier certain kinds of authors faced in getting published.
The movie's central crux, however, is Eden's having to choose between staying with his working class roots, symbolized by Connie (Trevor), or ascending to the moneyed class with Ruth (Keyes). On a more abstract plane, it's also a contest between Truth with a capital T, on one side, and social position, on the other. Thus, it's also a movie of conflicting ideals.
Basically, the movie starts fast, sags somewhat in the middle, and rev's-up for the climax. In fact, the first part, aboard ship, amounts to a hard act to follow. Frankly, I could have done without some of the ritual brawling with Raglan (MacDonald), which seems added mainly for action's sake. Nonetheless, it's a revealing little film with an energetic turn from headliner Ford and a good glimpse of the literary world, circa 1900.
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