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Another Monterey Peninsula story from John Steinbeck (along with "Tortilla Flat" and "Cannery Row") to make it to the big screen. This WW II story is about the "Paisanos" (defined as ancestors of Indians and Spanish settlers) in a slum section of a small fishing village on Santa Cruz Bay. Their simple lives are changed when news spreads that one of their own, Benny Martin, has become a war hero.
Benny's girl friend (Dorothy Lamour) is being romanced by the town ne'er do well (Arturo de Cordova) who keeps coming up with get-rich-quick schemes. Benny's father (J. Carrol Naish in an Oscar-nominated performance) is a simple man who is bewildered by the world at large.
When news hist that Benny is being awarded a presidential medal, the "white fathers" decided to use the news as a publicity gimmick (shades of Peston Sturges) to put the town on the map. In a frenzy of activity, the town leaders coerce the father to leave his shack and move into a big new house. They also start a PR campaign to paint Benny and his family as a proud Spanish family with money. The hypocrisy of the town leaders is quite well done, especially after the father realizes the lie and moves back to his shack.
When an Army general shows up to award the posthumous medal, the town leaders are shocked when he decides to go to the father and take his entourage with him. The big military parade, shown against the shacks, is very powerful as is the father's final speech about his son.
Naish steals the show as the humble father, but Lamour is also excellent as the fiery Lolita, who has a sharp eye for the truth. De Cordova is OK. Others in the fine cast include Charles Dingle as the bank manager, Frank McHugh as the PR man, Douglas Dumbrille as the general, Grant Mitchell as the mayor, Mikhail Rasumny as Raphael, and Rosita Moreno as the trouble-making Toodles.
This is a terrific film filled with irony and bitterness and sadness about the world of war and those who are left behind.
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