Wednesday, January 26, 2011


John Ford directed this generations-spanning family saga. In 1825, two powerful families, the Girards from New Orleans and the Warburtons from England, merge their cotton businesses; a young Girard son (Franchot Tone) has some other merging in mind when he falls for Mrs. Warburton (Madeleine Carroll), but after fighting a duel for her honor, he decides not to press the point. By 1914, the business is more successful than ever, and another Girard (Richard, played by Tone) and another Warburton (Mary, played by Carroll) meet and generate sparks, though she is engaged to the German Erik (Reginald Denny) who runs the Berlin branch of the company. To forget her, Richard goes to Europe and when war breaks out, joins the Foreign Legion. Mary becomes the head of the company in Europe and, after Richard is wounded, the two marry, though when he returns to the front, Richard is captured in battle and winds up being interrogated by Erik, now an officer in the German army. After the war, Richard and Mary go to America and by 1925, as a title card tells us (while "Rhapsody in Blue" plays), Richard has forgotten about the lessons of the war; money is his "new morality" and power his "new God." As he becomes richer and more ruthless, he becomes more distant from Mary until 1929, when he loses everything in the stock market crash. The film ends with a prescient montage sequence showing the building of the tensions that would lead to WWII, and a close-up on a crucifix while Mary prays.

As these episodic CAVALCADE-type of films go, this is OK. What with the rush of melodramatic events, the level of acting is almost beside the point; Tone and Carroll are adequate but they don't really get to put an individual stamp on their roles. Of the supporting cast, only Denny shines. Stepin Fetchit does his usual shuffling, barely-articulate bit, though I did chuckle at the scene where he joins up with the Foreign Legion because he thinks he's joining a lodge. A big chunk of effective combat footage, some done with hand-held cameras, was taken from the German film WOODEN CROSSES to which Fox had bought the rights. [DVD]

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