Things to Come That Went

MEN MUST FIGHT (1933) is a truly interesting oddity. Along with GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE it forms part of MGM’s pre-code pacifist argument, and like the La Cava madness it’s also riven with internal contradictions.

We begin in WWI with Diana Wynyard indulging in illicit sex with young flyer Robert Y0ung who, being not yet a big star, is promptly slain. Wynyard, in the family way, accepts older gent Lewis Stone’s marriage proposal even though she doesn’t really love him.

But now we flash forward to the far future year of 1940, as distinguished by it’s even more streamlined art deco sets and videophones. The world stands once more on the brink of war — a Second World War! — and Stone and Wynyard are respected campaigners for peace, hoping their/her son, Phillips Holmes, will never have to fight.

But when some ambassador gets assassinated, the nation prepares for conflict — with the Eurasians. “Eurasian” obviously sounded vague enough to avoid offending anybody and costing MGM overseas box office. The only Eurasian we meet is the cook, played by Luis Alberni (whose culinary skills have not yet seen him promoted to hotelier — Louis Louis of the Hotel Louis in 1937’s EASY LIVING). So, war is coming, and Stone does what a lot of people do — says, effectively, “I hate war, but this is different.” The family starts falling apart and the question of whether peace can ever be a possibility is much to the fore.

The movie being from MGM, the most conservative of studios, I didn’t expect it to stick to its pacifist guns, if you’ll pardon the unfortunate expression, right through to the end, but I was still surprised by some of the turns the argument takes. Ultimately we’re encouraged to accept the inevitability of wars with a kind of amused shrug, but in the meantime we get a montage of the world’s nations, seemingly representing the varied people who just want peace — and the montage includes a parade of swastika-wielding Nazis. It’s really not certain whether any irony is intended here at all: the image is juxtaposed with a shot of Japan, but it’s of Japanese kids in school, so just what point is being made?

Poor New York gets almost as tough a time in movies as Tokyo — that same year it got hit by KING KONG and DELUGE. Enthusiasts of old-school special effects will dig this bombing, much of which looks extremely convincing — stay tuned for the 1930s Skype call, inaccurate mainly in the sense that they don’t get cut off or go out of synch —

Because I know Glenn Erickson will dig it.

Granny (May Robson) sums things up in a speech which is genuinely surprising, from this studio and era —

“The more I see of this world the more convinced I am that it ought to be run by women. LET the men crow and strut and fight and be ornamental. Like roosters. That’s the function of the male.”

25 Responses to “Things to Come That Went”

  1. Wow!
    Weirdly, the prerecorded son seems more out of sync than his live dad.
    Parenthetically, having been brought up on Max Fleischer’s 1939 “Gulliver’s Travels” since a kid, I was struck only very recently by the significance of its anti-war message considering the year and Fleischer’s Polish roots.
    Also… Was Robert Greig actually an actual butler then?

  2. They probably sunk it by eye to the character most visible.

    I love the Fleischers’ shorts too much to cotton to the features, which seem the aesthetic opposites in every way. But I may revisit Gulliver sometime for a textual analysis…

    I suspect on Robert Greig’s passport it said “actor/butler.”

  3. “The more I see of this world the more convinced I am that it ought to be run by women.” Yeah right — Margaret Thatcher for instance. And leave us not forget Alice Rosenbaum (aka. “Ayn Rand”) and such modern progeny of “femininity” like Sarah Palin, Michelle Malangalang Malkin and Pam Atlas who was best buds with the Norwegian mass murderer — the list goes on and on.

    Nice bombing sequence.

    I’ve become interested in Diana Wynyard (and her Norma Shearer eyes) ever since enjoying her performance her in Whale’s lovely One More River.

  4. Men Must Fight ios indeed an odd project for Metro. As I trust you know Louis Mayer was (like Alice Rosenbaum) a self-hating Jew who modelled his life after the european aristocracy (his daughters went to the best schools and were given all manner of lessons in scial graces i the hope they woud marry a Duke of something) MGm was the most goyish studio in Hollywood. Mayer elt Andy Hardy was his geat est achievement — a “role model” for the “typical American boy” who of course couldn’t possibly be a Jew.

    When Hitler arrived Mayer — like all the other Jewish moguls in Hollywood did NOTHING!!!!!!!

    Only 20th Century-Fox, the sole studio outside of Disney (a noxiopus anti-semite who welcomed Leni Riefensthal personally to Hollywood) run by goys, had the backbone to make Gentleman’s Agreement.

    Of course the war was over by then.

  5. But there’s Warners, with Confessions of a Nazi Spy (and Bosko’s Picture Show). I think they had the most nerve of the majors.

    It is bizarrely revealing that very few of the anti-Nazi films made during war-time mention Jews or anti-semitism, or if they do, it’s without using the words. “Jew” was almost as bad a no-no as “pregnant.” So it’s mildly impressive when they manage to sneak the J word into The Seventh Cross (an MGM film).

  6. Louis must have been nodding off in the projection room.

  7. Wynyard is well worth seeing in On the Night of the Fire. And although I’d say her role is the one thing in Gaslight that’s improved upon in the Cukor remake, she’s still very good in it.

  8. Re: the sunking – That looks like back projection though, no?
    I can’t say whether or not I recommend “Gulliver’s Travels” simply because I know it too well. Gulliver himself is pure 1930s motion capture though. Eerie, charming, and yet a total cypher. Goshm,,m sorry, this is parenthetical.
    Is there actually – honest question, this – any pre-cold-war evidence for Disney’s noxious anti-semitism?

  9. I don’t know about anecdotal evidence, but The Three Little Pigs offers possible textual evidence:

  10. Indeed it does It’s made mention of in this book which deals with the Open Secret of Uncle Wat’s anti-semitism.

  11. Yes I remember that post. But does that mean Tex Avery was a white supremacist? And wouldn’t an anti-semite as megalomanic as Disney have refused to remove the offending scene when asked? Is this all there is?

  12. I’m not interested in defending him as such. Like most futurists, I suppose, he clearly “got” a lot of what Hitler’s favourite brains were doing… but politically? Ethnically? Like you said, David, in the beginning he seems more of an excitable farm boy, innocent of any intentional offence.

  13. “Innocent” my black gay half-Jewish ass!

  14. La Faustin Says:

    David E, I’m somehow reminded of Burgess in Alan Bennett’s AN ENGLISHMAN ABROAD: “I remember when I was posted to the Washington Embassy the Secretary of State gave me a lecture about what I should and shouldn’t do when I got there. I mustn’t be too openly left-wing, mustn’t get involved in the colour question, and above all I must avoid homosexual incicdents. I said, ‘To sum up, Hector, what you’re saying is, “Don’t make a pass at Paul Robeson.”?’ “

  15. Ernst Lubitsch’s ”To Be or Not To Be” is one of the few wartime films to tackle anti-semitism and Lubitsch was a Jew from Berlin. One of the few others to deal with it is Jean Renoir’s ”This Land is Mine” where French kids under occupation mark a Jewish boy’s face with a black J. Over and above all was Chaplin’s The Great Dictator which is the first anti-Nazi film to make the targets clear for all to see(Chaplin being more popular and loved than Walt Disney ever could be) unlike say, Borzage’s fine The Mortal Storm where the Roth family is persecuted for being non-Aryan. Produced by MGM studios by the way.

    There’s an article by BIll Krohn called Hollywood and the Shoah which deals with the whole question of contemporary cinematic response to anti-semitism. It’s there in the collection ”Cinema and the Shoah”, essays on cinematic representation of the tragedy, edited by Jean-Michel Frodon, former editor of Cahiers du Cinema. The article by the way tries to correct some of the accusations of silence leveled against the studios.

  16. As for Walt Disney, I recently saw Pinocchio, the film’s lovely but I gotta say that Stromboli struck me as a Shylock-figure and a very obvious one at that. I don’t care much for Disney either way but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least that he was anti-semitic.

  17. Oh, but Stromboli is Italian. And I think you’re still allowed to caricature Italians. Hey, I don’t make the rules!

  18. The Great Dictator is why Chaplin was hounded out of Hollywood by an anti-semitic mob.

    Descendants of that same mob more recently tired (and failed) to lynch Roman Polanski.

  19. Do the mob plant children on them or something? That is evil.

  20. Here we are again!

    I’ll tread the middle ground: we can agree that a difference between Chaplin and Polanski was that while Chaplin liked ’em young, he hadn’t actually committed statutory rape of a twelve year old.

    It certainly ought to be possible to prosecute a child molester while maintaing a moral standard ABOVE that of a child molester, and the state of California has done surprisingly poorly on that score.

  21. Sorry, couldn’t resist.
    Can we also agree that for all his possibly wretched political views Disney at least treated dwarfs better than Wagner?

  22. I’m told that in the BluRay of Snow White the drool hanging from Dopey’s mouth is exceptionally vivid.

  23. Oo, I just found an excellent letter from the late Ray Bradbury (sniff) to Brian Sibley about Disney here…
    And, David C, as a Jon Finchianado, have you seen his turn as pretend-Jesus in The Martian Chronicles?

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