An American Romance (1944)
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My only criticism is that it ended too abruptly. I did not watched the 151 minute version. T.C.M. showed a shorter version but I felt ending with world war II and building planes was a bit of a disappointment.
If you are looking for a film to show your grandchildren, this is it!
Some of the documentary portions, showing some of the steps in iron ore mining and transport, steel production, and assembly line production of autos and planes, are rather impressive, especially considering that, unusually, they were shot in color. We see lots of Rosy -the- riveters working on the B-17s, but also lots of men doing the heavier work.
Taking advantage of the contributions to the message board at this site, we can surmise that Dangos is from the Bohemia region of the decaying Austro-Hungarian empire. At one point, he refers to himself as a 'bohunk', which was a derogatory term for poor illiterate residents of Bohemia, especially used by neighboring Germans and German immigrants to the US. The story must begin after 1892, which is when the krone(crown, in English) was adopted as the currency for this empire, but before 1899, which is when Dongos marries his Irish immigrant girlfriend Anna(Ann Richards), who began by teaching him English and encouraging his thirst to understand how machines worked relating to ore mining and steel making. Anna is a no-nonsense, but sympathetic, school teacher, who detects a kindred spirit-in -the-rough in the shy illiterate Dangos, thus encourages his latent romantic interest in her, with the stipulation that she expects him to be ambitious in rising to become a man of some importance. She even plants the possibility in his mind that his son might become president of his adopted country, causing him to name his later sons after various favorite presidents.
John Qualen, who plays Dangos' older cousin(Anton) adds much to the palatability of the early portion, when Dangos is learning to work in the iron mine. As often, Qualen comes across as the quintessential working class European immigrant, who infuses common sense and humor to the proceedings. He had a long film career playing various bit parts.
Humor is included periodically, mostly centering on Anton or Dongos. For example, Dongos is impatient to learn to be a mine steam shovel driver. Thus, on his lunch break, he climbs into the cab and starts working the levers, almost causing a catastrophe, dumping a bit of ore on Anton. Later, when he is showing his new friend Howard how much more powerful his car is after he tinkered with it, he races a train, and gets thrown in jail for speeding and reckless driving. Still later, he intentionally rolls over his new steel-roofed car, to demonstrate the increased survivability with such a roof, in case of accident. His comment: "I swallowed my gum". Too bad he didn't also think about installing a seat belt! The auto executives were impressed with his design, but balked at putting it in production, saying they think it best to wait until a competitor introduced a similar design. This is an example of a general assumption by the public that producers often let improved products or technologies sit on the shelf until forced by competition or by overwhelming consumer or government demands to release them to the public.
The message about labor and management needing to get along and compromise was timely, as worker strikes in armament factories were a periodic fact or threat during the war.
The version I saw is 121 minutes; originally the film was 150 minutes and the studio ordered 30 minutes cut. There are long scenes of factory work as iron, steel, cars, and airplanes are produced, and Vidor thought the 30 minutes would come from those scenes, which are wonderful but plentiful. Instead dramatic portions were cut. The film ends abruptly.
Need I add, this was the last film King Vidor did for MGM.
The story concerns a Czech, Stefan Dangos, who emigrates to America, intending to get a job in the iron mines with his cousin. That happens, and he works his way up, along the way marrying his English tutor (Ann Richards). He graduates to steel, and finally goes into business making cars.
This is truly a story about achieving the American dream, with a lot of patriotism thrown in, as the film spans from the 1890s into World War II and America's entry into it.
The factory scenes and the scenes in the iron mines are fascinating. Of note, during World War II, there were no passenger car assembly lines in operation. As a result, Vidor had to borrow cars from Chrysler, take them apart, and reassemble them in a simulated assembly line.
Brian Donlevy, who usually plays the heavy, does a fine job here. He's no Spencer Tracy, but I liked him in the role. He's rough around the edges and very believable and likable. Ann Richards is lovely as his wife - I assume if Ingrid Bergman had done this role, it would have been built up quite a bit. Stephen McNally and Walter Abel are also featured; McNally, as one of Stefan's son, is the narrator.
Good, not great, but certainly an interesting film.
The film begins with Stefan Dubechek aka Steve Dangos (Brian Donlevy) arriving in America. He knows no English but like any good citizen, has a strong desire to work hard and make something of himself. So, starting off at the bottom at a steel mill, he is able to work his way up through the company. Eventually, he and a new friend find they have a great idea for a new car--and soon leave to start a company of their own.
The film is basically the American success story. Of course not every guy with vision and drive makes it--but this film seems to indicate that such an individual will. And, it also stresses the importance of such a strong-minded and committed person to the new war effort, as the film ends with Dangos organizing his factory for the mass production of aircraft.
While this could have been a dry documentary-type film, little bits of humanity and charm make this film work well. Well worth seeing.
By the way, if you do watch, pay attention to Donlevy's accent. Especially towards the end, he forgot it in a scene or two and in the next he's speaking with this strong accent once again!
But the drama was kind of corny. Not that immigrants didn't or couldn't become industrialists, but I don't think GMs steel turret tops cars could possibly have been invented in a backyard shed. In 1910 an innovative individual might have made a real improvement in auto production; by the thirties this could only have been done by a large industrial firm like GM with millions of dollars and hundreds of engineers.
Donlevy's role is that of an Eastern European immigrant who starts work at a steel mill and by dint of his own hard work ethic rises to become a captain of industry. Along the way he woos and weds Ann Richards and they have a girl and four boys. A lot of immigrants did it that way and some are still doing it though many are illegal now. Back when we had virtually unlimited immigration because we wanted to grow the country a lot of stories like Donlevy's were possible although few rose to his heights. On both sides of my family that story could be told modified quite a bit.
In the end Donlevy is confronted with of all things labor management problems. He proves as stubborn as people like Henry Ford in that regard. If you remember in Citizen Kane a drunken Joseph Cotten tells off Orson Welles that something called organized labor is coming on the scene and what you gave your employees as largess is now thought of as their rights. Donlevy has the same paternalistic approach.
American Romance is also a tribute to the power of American industry which was growing to what we thought in 1944 as having unlimited potential. It was the backbone of our war effort and the last ten minutes without words show what Donlevy's Steven Danglos was a part of.
For reasons I think that no name star was in the lead, American Romance did not do that well. That's a pity because it's a fine film with wonderful cinematography which I finally saw on a color TV. Nice casting all around with such familiar folks as Walter Abel, John Qualen, and Stephen McNally. I hope TCM broadcasts it again soon.
Its a romantic, old fashioned film that attempts to show how the USA is more than just any one person or group of people. That's something we still need to learn today.
This film was written, produced, and directed by the great King Vidor at MGM and was meant to be an American industrial epic culminating in a WW II propaganda piece with bombers flying in formation. It was also supposed to be the story of an immigrant and his family. The film was screened at 150 minutes, and Louis B. Mayer demanded the film cut down to 120 minutes. Vidor has no part in the edit, so what remains is a choppy story with lots of documentary-like scenes of industry. Most of the family story got deleted.
Initially set up at MGM to star Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman, and Joseph Cotten, by the time Vidor was ready to film, Mayer balked at the cost and proceeded with a B cast of Brian Donlevy, Ann Richards, and Walter Abel. John Qualen and Stephen McNally are the only other name actors in the cast.
Saddled with a B cast, Vidor still tried to make the film he envisioned, but there are far too many cost-saving things going on, especially the cheesy sets. While there are some location shots, these are pretty much confined to industrial scenes.
The real pity is that Donlevy gives a terrific performance as does Abel in a much-reduced part. Australian-born Richards, however, is pretty bad, and her accent seems to change in every scene. With the family stuff omitted by Mayer, the narrative is choppy and the "heart" of the film is gone.
It's no surprise that after this bowdlerized version was released in 1944, it was a major flop. MGM lost a bundle and Vidor never worked for the studio again.
This is what the head of MGM said about the film: "I was determined to tell the story of steel from the viewpoint of an eager immigrant in 'An American Romance .' When the picture was previewed in Inglewood, Louis B. Mayer came to me on the sidewalk in front of the theater, put his arm around my shoulders and said, 'I've just seen the greatest picture our company ever made.
Look especially for the series of B17s rolling off the assembly line faster than anyone could imagine.
For all those American naysayers. see this film! GREAT.Brian Donlevy is great.
There are some free based things with the story. Despite speculation that this is actually based upon a real person's story, the way it is presented, the King Vidor script is a compilation of several people. It highlights the land of opportunity aspect of America. It's hero, is a man who likes to read with no formal education but gets his start learning to read in a classic one room school house from a school teacher who happens to be an attractive red-head as well, he later marries and produces a large family.
Of course, because of the story, we do not really get exposed to the real working conditions of these industries too often. We do get the dangers shown to us. There is the do-it-yourself spirit of the American Dream on display too. An immigrants rise from the bottom including a walking trek from NYC to Minnesota and beyond are here. There is a lot of location work and this film was so expensive that MGM lost a pile of money on it.
There is a short cameo of the late Jimmie Dodd who would go on to write the theme for the Mickey Mouse Club and star in it. The Disney tie is really correct at his story is as American as this one. The anti- union segment covers this story when Dodd appears, but it is not quite the real Americana story of Big Business that really happened everywhere in this country. It does work well in his story.
It does make sense with the Auto Industry the rise of the Unions, which by the 1960's would really have created a huge middle class in America. This is where it came from, and the fact that the US outproduced the Axis in order to win World War 2 is quite accurately shown in this movie.
The cast, though not as well known as other films in the period, does fine though the emotions in the script are rather contained. The most emotional moment is the death of a son in World War 1.
More than anything, this movie is about the American Dream and the Industries that grew because of it.
Barrel-chested, ham-handed Brian Donleavy as the least likely Czech immigrant you're ever likely to see, enters America through Ellis Island and walks across the country to the Mesabi range in Minnesota where he begins honest toil as an underground miner. Not content with simply working, he learns English from the school teacher and marries her. They have four or five children in the course of the movie. Donleavy is an industrious and ambitious guy and they move to Pittsburgh. He knows the steel business inside and out, rises to the top, and grinds out Flying Fortresses for the Air Force in World War II.
It's strictly routine. It's the equivalent of a flag waver for the Armed Forces during the war, only this is aimed at the home front. We should all be like Brian Donleavy, a humble, unlettered, God-fearing son of the soil whose intelligence and drive are going to win the war for us.
There's no edge to it. There's not a surprise in it. When their oldest boy is of age, it's 1918 and he enlists in the U. S. Army. We can only wait for the telegram, which we know will be read out loud.
The humor misfires because it's so determinedly corny. Maybe somebody else finds it funny when a man insists on tinkering with a balky automobile and a small explosion envelopes him in smoke. But there is some interest in getting to see the Mesabi iron ore pit -- "the biggest man-made Grand Canyon in the United States." It was made by entrepreneurs; the Grand Canyon by God. And there are one or two exciting incidents. In the best, Donleavy winds up hanging by his thumbs above a carpet of bubbling molten steel.
I'd never heard of this movie before and now, having seen it, I think I know why.
What makes a story great? What draws readers and viewers, from generation to generation, to the Iliad, "War and Peace", "Strange Interlude", "Gone with the Wind", "A Face in the Crowd", "The Godfather" and other such classics? It's simply the fascination of seeing characters change over time as a result of the circumstances in their lives. It happens to everyone in real life, but not invariably in reel life, and when it doesn't, tickets don't sell no matter how much money, Technicolor and CGI are thrown into the mix.
The story is so tangential it can get annoying, but there are a few more standard King Vidor naturalistic touches, like the way Donlevy's accent fades into working class Americanese. Vidor's handling of the Union issue is also characteristic, giving Donlevy a very sympathetic speech right before knocking him down. I was a little surprised when the end come, and wonder if the 30 minutes were cut from the end or in bits and pieces.