The People Against The Thing From Another World

Called to the bar.

Casting Spencer Tracy as an alcoholic is a bit nervy… a scene showing him engaging in a sketchy interaction with Eduardo Ciannelli in the men’s room may be dicier still. THE PEOPLE AGAINST O’HARA (1951) has moments of subversion and dissonance unusual in an MGM picture.

Tracy plays a retired criminal lawyer and reformed boozer driven back to the bottle by his struggle to win the case of a young man (James Arness, THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD himself) accused of murder. John Sturges directs — his early thrillers aren’t as noirish as Anthony Mann’s, but he does have cinematographer John “single-source” Alton on his side so the movie is beautiful.

I must have looked away during the credits because I missed Alton’s name, but the suspicion gradually donned on me as the film went on that I was seeing his work. One of the few DoP’s with such a distinctive style.

This is the shot that made me first glimmer and glom.

“Spencer Tracy’s always good as a lawyer. He’s so solid,” said Fiona. “He’s an immovable force.”

“I think you can have an immovable object or an unstoppable force…” I suggest, but then come to think she’s right. Spence is an immovable force. Or possibly an unstoppable object.

The film is very well cast — Diana Lynn has one terrific scene, John Hodiak is fine in his natural environment as third lead, Pat O’Brien fades into the furniture, Ciannelli and William Campbell are great nasties, and if you enjoy the look, sound and feel of Emile Meyer as much as I do, you will enjoy seeing, hearing and touching him here.

This is sort of a noir — there is some surprising stuff, including the ending. But the ultimate message of just about any MGM film is that the system works, so you don’t get a real sense of subversion and malaise, but then, maybe you already have enough of that in your life.

THE PEOPLE AGAINST O’HARA stars Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Hildy Johnson; Emmy Kockenlocker; John Kovac; Dr. Satan; the Thing from Another World; Cimmaron Rose; Walking Coyote; Concho; Chief Quinn; Reverend Cyril Playfair; Mrs. Carol Stark; Lt. Harry Kello; Chief Inspector Bernie Ohls; Paul Kersey; Molly Molloy; Mr. Rafferty; and the voice of Colossus.

7 Responses to “The People Against The Thing From Another World”

  1. ehrenstein47 Says:

    I find “Spen_SAH!” really boring as an actor. He just sits there like a fireplug and dribbles out his lines with the most minimal inflections imaginable. He appears terrified of looking the other performers in the ey. Weird.

  2. I used to be indifferent to Tracy but his disreputable pre-codes won me over. After that, though I find the paterfamilias role kind of dull/oppressive, I warmed to him as an actor.

  3. ehrenstein47 Says:

    I like him in “The Actress” and “Keeper of the Flame” In the former he had Jean Simmons to play against (she of course won) and in the latter Darryl Hickman.

  4. Confession: I haven’t seen either! Why am I holding back on The Actress? I think I own three copies of it! The sooner I watch it, the sooner I can RE-watch it!

  5. kevin mummery Says:

    Oddly enough, the only version of Mr. Hyde that I’ve ever found even remotely plausible is Tracy’s version. Somehow he manages to convey the repressed desires of Jekyll, manifested as Hyde, better than anyone else, and without the garish make-up Frederic March relied on in 1932. Beyond that, his work seems like dull plodding with occasional glimmers of sincerity.

  6. I’m a Fredric March man all the way, though perhaps mainly because I find Mamoulian’s inspirations so delirious.

    Tracy spoke of Hyde in utterly autobiographical terms, as a man who escaped the repression of his life through drinking something that changed him. After a while, his analysis of the part stops being accurate to the plot of J&H and becomes purely a description of his own alcoholic benders. It’s eerie!

  7. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Even more eerie is the way Ingrid Bergman’s performance foreshadows that of her daughter Isabella Rossellini in “Blue Velvet”

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