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.”