Monday, June 11, 2007


This relatively plotless, light-hearted drama is based on what I understand is a relatively plotless, light-hearted book by John Steinbeck, a collection of vignettes about the folks who live in an impoverished neighborhood in Monterey, California. In the movie, most of the characters are poor Mexican-Americans, played almost entirely by Anglo actors. John Garfield is a roughneck youth, led astray by the older Spencer Tracy who, in the opening, helps get Garfield out of jail but proceeds to basically ruin the lad's life, financially and romantically. Garfield inherits two houses on Tortilla Flat from a dead grandfather and due to Tracy, both wind up burned to the ground, events which are taken rather lightly by Tracy and his gang of ne'er-do-wells. Both actors are fine, though I found Tracy's character totally unlikeable (and I'm pretty sure he's not supposed to be). Most everyone seems like they belong in a Damon Runyon story, and your tolerance for Runyonesque atmosphere may well determine how much you like this film. Hedy Lamarr does what she can with the underwritten role of a sexy but sweet homegirl. Frank Morgan is fun, hiding behind a thick, fake-looking beard as a dog-loving, St. Francis-worshipping eccentric who winds up, at least briefly, in Tracy's orbit. There is solid support from Sheldon Leonard, Akim Tamiroff, Allen Jenkins, and Connie Gilchrist. The whole thing suffers from being a bit too studio-bound; it might work better today as an small indie effort, and in fact this film's atmosphere feels a lot like that of the 80's film version of Steinbeck's CANNERY ROW which, while not an indie effort, could pass for one. [TCM]

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