Intriguing 'quota quickie', notable mainly for locations
In terms of script, acting, direction and mise-en-scène, this film is a bogstandard 'quota quickie' (a low budget comedy or melodrama produced as a result of the 1927 Cinematograph Act, which sought to boost indigenous film production by requiring a set proportion of films shown in UK cinemas to be British-made). It is the story of a steelworker, James 'Iron' Harg (Stuart) who invents a revolutionary new production process. When his father is injured in a workplace accident, his compensation money is invested in developing the invention. A typical 'rags to riches' narrative then ensues, with Harg eventually bankrupting his former employer.
There is nothing particularly special about the production values in this film. Its significance is twofold. Firstly, it is unusually explicit in showing the negative effects of unregulated capitalism - Harg's boss is depicted as an arrogant, moneygrabbing incompetent whose negligence causes Harg's father's accident. Given the extensive political censorship which operated at the time (for more on this, read Jeffrey Richards, 'The Age of the Dream Palace', London 1984), I was surprised that this aspect of the script made it through.
Secondly, the steelworks scenes were filmed at the Acklam Iron and Steel Works in Middlesbrough, and most of the exteriors were shot in and around the city. The film is therefore well known among local historians on Teesside for obvious reasons; though they rarely get a chance to see it. The steelworks itself has long since ceased to exist; and therefore some of the footage has strong local history value, even though 'Men of Steel' will never receive much attention from film critics and historians. The National Film and Television Archive has a very nice 35mm print (when I showed it a year or so ago, it looked to me as new: I don't think it had been projected before - there wasn't a scratch or a spec of dust on it), but I'm not aware of this film ever having been broadcast or released on retail video.
Another point of moderate interest is the casting of a young Heather Angel as Harg's girlfriend - she later made it to Hollywood, and occasionally pops up in character parts in some major studio pics of the '40s and '50s.
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