Victory Thru Ty Power

THIS ABOVE ALL turns up, unnamed, as a reference in Anthony Burgess’s novel of Excalibur, Any Old Iron, which is what got me thinking about it. And then the idea of doing something on Anatole Litvak came up, and the two things dovetailed.

(The novel also features a US serviceman turned novelist called Irwin Roth, who seems to be a nasty joint portrait of Irwin Shaw and Philip Roth. Oddly, Shaw was a writer for Litvak: he authored the source play OUT OF THE FOG derives from, and later co-scripted ACT OF LOVE. This started me wondering if Burgess, who did a lot of writing on unfilmed movies, ever brushed up against Litvak. Actually, this story is a bit like ACT OF LOVE, pitting love against war, but without any of the bite.)

THIS ABOVE ALL features, asides from the elaborate studio recreations of the blitz which Burgess remarks upon, some good atmospheric blackout stuff at the start. The romance seems interesting, but then the film goes on, and on… Ty Power, of course, is playing it American, despite his character being English. He has PTSD and is a deserter, an interesting set-up for a propaganda film. I’m assuming it was conceived and shot before Pearl Harbour, so it’s allowed to be pro-Britain but a bit anti-war. Power’s problems have potential, but only come up intermittently: everything kind of drags on. Wartime movies usually bring a tear to my eye: I’m easy. This felt like watching Paul Muni shove a piano up a hill.

Joan Fontaine has good moments, bad moments, and truly awful moments which seem more like aeons while they’re happening. At her worst, that woman could simper for England: here, she does.

Litvak is seemingly at sea in this increasingly turgid morass. He tries a few zip pans, but they seem unmotivated, forced. Like trying to get a conga line going at a funeral reception. The action is far from zippy. Incredibly, the source novel is by Eric Knight, whose fast-paced hardboiled thriller You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up would have made a far better subject for this director. Knight also write Lassie Come Home. This one is tonally stranded in no man’s land between the two, a strange place to be. R.C. Sherriff, the poet laureate of Hollywood England, doesn’t seem to have found a workable cinematic structure in his adaptation.

Actors keep turning up, people we like. Thomas Mitchell, speaking truth to Power, essays a gratuitous Scottish accent, which is not disgraceful. It’s identifiably East coast, though it wanders up and down the shoreline a bit. Nigel Bruce does something rustic. You need these guys around because the central couple aren’t doing it. Whenever they were alone together after the half-hour mark, we prayed for an interloper to interlope them.

Very handsome photography by Arthur C. Miller, though

THIS ABOVE ALL stars Leonard Vole; Mrs. de Winter; Uncle Billy; Lord Willoughby; Doctor Watson; Mrs. Higgins; Professor Sorel; Mrs. Midget; Woodrow Wilson; Ethel Rogers; High Sheriff of Nottingham; Claire Lennartz; Dr. John Lanyon; Reverend Cyril Playfair; Inspector Lestrade; Old Tom; Leuwen Grayle; Uncle Arn; California Carlson; and Dai Bando.

7 Responses to “Victory Thru Ty Power”

  1. Certainly one of the finest songs inspired by a movie star!

  2. My favorite WWII weepie is “Random Harvest”, particularly an early moment when amnesiac Ronald Colman has visitors. After the first few minutes it’s lush MGM fantasy, but the opening scenes give it a gravitas that lasts.

    Interesting thing: The movie is about a man rebuilding his life after surviving the horrors of war. Made in 1942, it makes no mention of the current war and all the young men who are going to face the same horrors. If anyone did a remake, the ideal ending would include the idea that the cycle is going to repeat.

  3. While it would be pleasant to think that Coward was inspired by Power, the dates don’t work. The boy in the song is a film star who ‘melts [the speaker’s] heart in every single scene’. Coward wrote the song in 1932. Power only became a film star in 1936. It’s true that he had made his film debut in 1932, but that was in a small part which doesn’t seem to have caught anyone’s attention and undoubtedly did nothing for his Hollywood career, since he spent the next three years working mainly onstage, at one point playing Benvolio in a touring production of Romeo and Juliet with Ralph Richardson as Mercutio and John Cromwell as Paris (if only they had made a film together!).

  4. lukeaspell Says:

    I’m a little late commenting on this, but Burgess put a very nice imaginary film reference into Earthly Powers, in which a composer character writes the score for “Otto Preminger’s The Brothers Karamazov”. I’m not sure whether this was half an observation (Preminger films famous books – yes, but never that kind), quite a perceptive observation (Preminger’s “balanced” approach making him a suitable adapter for Dostoevsky’s “polyphonic” writing), or just an accidentally interesting snobbish joke of low/high juxtaposition. In any case, it’s more evocative than the wilfully inaccurate references to “D. W. Griffiths” etc. you find in the work of British literary novelists of the generation after his.

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