A man's life is retold just after his funeral. Beginning as a track walker, Tom Garner rose through all sorts of railroad jobs to head the company. In the meantime he lost touch with his fam... Read allA man's life is retold just after his funeral. Beginning as a track walker, Tom Garner rose through all sorts of railroad jobs to head the company. In the meantime he lost touch with his family. When he saw what was happening it was already too late.A man's life is retold just after his funeral. Beginning as a track walker, Tom Garner rose through all sorts of railroad jobs to head the company. In the meantime he lost touch with his family. When he saw what was happening it was already too late.
The narrative opens at a church funeral of Tom Garner. As the camera pans around those in attendance, it then captures the presence of an old man named Henry (Ralph Morgan) with bushy mustache, wire glasses and gray hair. Leaving the service as the minister continues officiating about the deceased, Henry comes to the Chicago & Southwestern Railway Company building where he worked under the Tom, the company president. Henry then finds and takes an old photo of Tom and his little boy that rests upon his office desk. Later that evening, Henry, after helping his wife (Sarah Padden) with the dinner dishes, takes out the photograph to then share his memories of a true friend. Henry starts by telling his wife, "It's funny that our friendship began with a fight." Flashbacks recall the initial meeting of Henry (Cullen Johnson) and Tom (Billy O'Brien), and how the older boy was to become an influence in his life. Years later, Tom (Spencer Tracy), who never had any formal education, meets Sally (Colleen Moore), a mountain schoolteacher, who not only tutors him to read and write, but becomes wife and mother to his infant son. As Tom rises from track walker to construction worker to president of a railroad company, his marriage slowly starts to fall apart. Aside from heated arguments with Sally revolving around his pampered adult son (Clifford Jones) being expelled from college, his uncontrollable boozing and wild-living, Tom not only "humiliates" Junior by having him work as a bookkeeper at his company, but ends up having an illicit affair with Eve Borden (Helen Vinson), daughter of a rival railroad magnate (Henry Kolker). After Sally meets with a sad end, Tom marries Eve, who becomes untrue to him. As Tom reaches the pinnacle point to the power and the glory of Tom's life, Henry resumes his memory of a true friend with situations leading to his downfall.
A very interesting premise that tells its story in 76 minutes rather than what possibly could been captured in two hours, Spencer Tracy gives a masterful performance, especially when challenging roles come his way. Playing a natural born leader with unafraid tendencies, his only fear happens to be within himself. Scenes depicting him the silver haired cigar smoking businessman comes to mind of Tracy's later years from the mid-1950s onward when his dark hair turned prematurely white. Colleen Moore, whose character goes through the aging process as well, at one point, makes one think of Margaret Sullavan's golden age sequence from her 1941 edition to Universal's BACK STREET. The similarity between Moore and Sullavan is close to remarkable. While the power of Tracy's super-stardom lay ahead during his peak years at MGM (1935-1954), the glory days of Colleen Moore's era came to an end by 1934. Ralph Morgan, playing the third party, nearly steals the show through his narrative and devotion to a friend he defends to those speaking out against him, even his wife who calls Tom Garner a ruthless egotist. Henry's loyalty of friendship is felt throughout, from their Tom Sawyer-Huckleberry Finn type boyhood summer days by the old swimming hole to their business association during their senior years. Another honorable mention comes from Helen Vinson as the social climbing second wife.
As good as the actors are, there's something amiss to what should have become a celebrated masterpiece and a Academy Award nomination for Tracy, that being the often confusing story structure presented in jumbled fashion rather than in chronological order. Interestingly, it's Morgan's character who, through his narration, puts the pieces together even if not in any round-about way. Whether or not the actual intention of the narrative, chances are possibly deletions of certain key sequences leaving certain questions unanswered could have had something to do with some of its confusion. Take note that the familiar presence of veteran character actor, J. Farrell MacDonald, is briefly spotted that he can easily be missed by anyone familiar by his presence through a blink of an eye. No doubt, this narrative idea was good enough to have been duplicated and improved upon by future film directors who might have used this particular movie as its basic tool.
Long unseen, largely forgotten and at one point feared lost to film history, THE POWER AND THE GLORY finally turned up after many years in revival movie houses before being televised first on public television stations (notably New York City's own WNET, Channel 13, where it premiered in July 1992) and later on cable TV networks as the Fox Movie Channel and Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: September 18, 2011). Through its availability and occasional television revivals, this production from the neglected Fox Film era (1929-1935) should still be of some interest to film scholars and classic movie lovers of modern times. All the power to you. (***)
- Dec 1, 2012