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The quasi-autobiographical Martin Eden by Jack London is a haunting novel. The issues that emerge in the book give credence to London's likely suicide, in spite of the several protests of his heirs. The film here remains faithful to the story, i.e., a young man struck with the desire to be a writer and struggling with his own feelings of inadequacy and economic struggles. Glen Ford is great as Martin Eden, the rough-hewn genius whose work is plagiarized by a well known writer, Ian MacDonald's Raglan, and whose claims of authenticity are doubted by the woman he loves. Claire Trevor is great as the haughty rich girl, Connie and Stu Erwin does well as her brother, Joe. The film ends on a bright note, with Eden's success taken as a matter of course. The book ends on a very pessimistic note with Eden's suicide and his quest for virtue terminated. London's message in the book is a confused one, i.e., how could anyone know the real person under all that success and fame? Sadly, we must conclude London didn't know that man under his celebrity. Eden's life, like that of London, smacks of tragedy, while the film goes on with Eden living happily ever after. This film was made just before WW2. Glen Ford went on to distinguish himself in the US Navy, although he was a Canadian.
In reviewing a film like The Adventures Of Martin Eden we have the
benefit of over 60 years of hindsight and a whole career of Glenn Ford
to look back on. Considering the type of roles that Ford mostly did in
his career one could conclude he was typecast. Someone like John
Garfield or later on Paul Newman would have been perfect in the part of
the protagonist who is author Jack London.
Yet in Peter Ford's biography of his father, Glenn won the approval of London's widow Charmian. She said he quite reminded her of her late husband who died at 50 in 1916 and she even let him hear some gramophone recordings of Jack so he could play him to perfection.
What Charmian thought of the finished product we don't know because that Peter Ford didn't mention. Not hardly his father's fault but the film is nothing like the novel. Maybe at some point we'll get a true version with someone like Russell Crowe in the title role.
Glenn is a native genius, rough, unschooled with a burning desire to tell stories of and about the working masses with realism, not unlike Emile Zola in France a generation or two earlier. He goes to sea and gets to serve under a brutal captain in Ian MacDonald. One of his shipmates Stu Erwin rebels and gets 10 years in jail for it. Glenn's kept a diary, but can't get it admitted to court as evidence.
That diary is the beginning of his career, but he still wants to see justice for Erwin. Glenn's life also has time for romance with Erwin's sister Claire Trevor and ship owner's daughter Evelyn Keyes who though she likes Glenn is ultimately daddy Pierre Watkin's daughter.
Conditions on ships were as brutal as London describes them. Other than that this is not Jack London's book. Had he been alive I doubt he would have given his imprimatur to the finished product.
That being said Ford gives a fine performance in a role he never would have been considered for later in his career. He's ably assisted by Trevor and Keyes and the rest of the cast.
But this film definitely needs a more true remake and one that reflects London's rather pessimistic vision.
The first time I saw this movie was in the early forties, when I was
fourteen years old, the part I remembered best was the line; you ask
for a dime at a time, and then the fist fights as boy's and as men,
life aboard a ship. And I always liked the acting of Ian MacDonald as a
Claire Trevor another favorite of mine, as the girl who was always faithful, and stuck with her man even though she was losing him.
Evelyn Keyes as the haughty rich girl as one reader said.
The girl who had everything, Stu Erwin is good too and the little boy whom I did not recognize,'till the closing credits rolled Dickie Moore. And Eden's goodbye to Raglan; he said a dime at a time and to me it looked like they parted as friendly enemies.
I had been looking for this movie ever since I got my first BETA-MAX VTR as they were first called(Video Tape Recoders)I got my copy last week and I've really enjoyed it. "Boompa" firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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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