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One of over 700 Paramount productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by MCA ever since. See more »
Although the story takes place in the 1917-1920 period, all of the women's hairstyles and clothes are strictly in the 1929 mode, which was quite different, especially in regards to the cloche hats and shorter skirt lengths. See more »
In this tale of crooks, war and regeneration are all the elements that would sustain feature films for decades.
On the technical side, we have the Movietone (optical) soundtrack. The director uses it to great effect in a variety of ways. An early fight scene has a participant fall on a bar's roll player and ragtime music springs forth to lighten the fight's mood. Soldiers sing and one lyric strikes a nerve with a face behind a window. At a crossroad in the protagonist's life, a speech is heard through as open door. And at the film's climax, the hero and villain are trapped in a darkened room; their voices and struggling carrying the story. [Some flaws not the director's fault: wow and flutter in reel four, some scenes aren't recorded properly and Ms. Ralston's volume tails off near the end of her lines] The sound is full-bodied throughout the action scenes. Cromwell keeps the camera moving, with many shots so quick they didn't need synched.
Battle scenes are well staged and a TRAVELING crane is used extensively. A charge up a hill is made memorable by this technique. Backgrounds are realistic, especially on the train sequence. They are in-focus and fit the story's progression. The battle contains one process shot done in close-up. It's quick and it works. Gunfire is shown from behind the shooter. I had the distinct impression that "Sergeant York" borrows from two scenes done better here. The onscreen action is equaled by the ferocious tracking camera. This was well planned, as Mr. Cromwell was once quoted as telling a producer, "for every day of full rehearsal you give me, I'll knock off a day on the shooting schedule." On a Cromwell set, full rehearsal meant "with camera".
While the plot's WW I gangster-turns-war-hero story would soon become cliche, good performances and writing keep this fresh. Bancroft scored big at the box office for Paramount as the "big swell" type gangster in "Underworld" (1927), "The Dragnet" (1928) and as "Thunderbolt" (1929). He's even more at ease, here, deflecting hero praise with lines like "gunmen are what they need over here." Esther Ralston is beautiful and she performs well. Raymond Hatton is agreeably over-animated as (and I love this name) "Dogey" Franks. Warner Oland as another heavy and Dorothy Revier is his "moll". Both are fine and Ms. Revier manages to wear the entire Paramount costume department in the course of this film (just kidding, maybe half). Though it may bog briefly in a couple of spots, no talkie from 1929 even comes close to this level of action. Highly recommended.
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