Tuesday, September 1, 2015

They Gave Him a Gun (1937)

They Gave Him a Gun is a 1937 crime drama that was based on William J. Cowen’s 1936 novel of the same name. Admittedly, I have many favorite Franchot films, but this is one of his early dramas that I particularly enjoy. Warning: this post contains spoilers.

As Jimmy, Franchot Tone gives a convincing, sensitive portrayal of a timid World War I soldier dreading active duty who transforms into a merciless militant who confidently shoots and kills the opposing army. Fred Willis (Spencer Tracy) is Jimmy’s friend and supporter, and although he’s an obedient solider, Fred is much more interested in the kind, lovely nurse Rose Duffy (Gladys George) than in the deadly battles.
When Jimmy is critically wounded, he falls for nurse Rose himself. Jimmy has no idea that Rose is in love with Fred and Rose never divulges this secret. After Fred goes missing in action and is presumed dead, Rose marries Jimmy. Following the end of the war, we see Jimmy, in full uniform covered in medals, proudly posing for photographs and sharing stories from the battlefield. In this scene, it is clear that Jimmy may have a difficult time adjusting to quiet, civilian life. Jimmy is thrilled to discover that Fred was only captured, not killed. He is excited to have his best friend and wife both back in his life, but doesn’t notice that the reunion is painful for Rose and Fred, who are still in love with one another but loyal to Jimmy.  

A good-natured carnival barker, Fred senses a change in his buddy and soon realizes that Jimmy is making his living as a murderous gangster. Rose then makes the difficult decision to turn Jimmy into the police so that he can pay his debts and return to an honest, humble life.
While he’s incarcerated, Jimmy must decide if he’s willing to swallow his pride and pay the price for his crimes in order to return to a humble, happy life with the woman he loves. The scenes of Jimmy’s incarceration and waiting to see what choice he will ultimately make kept me enthralled. Although some of the melodramas filmed in the 30s tend to have predictable endings, I had no idea how this one was going to end. Franchot perfectly plays the part of the conflicted gangster. His face masterfully shows the conflict between his inherent vulnerability and acquired need for power. Spencer Tracy and Gladys George turn in stirring performances as a couple that places their devotion to Jimmy ahead of their own undeniable love. Tone and Tracy only acted in this single feature film together, but Gladys George costarred with Franchot in 1934’s Straight is the Way and 1938’s Love is a Headache.
You can find They Gave Him a Gun on DVD through Amazon. If you enjoy They Gave Him a Gun, I also suggest you check out Pilot No. 5 and Three Comrades.

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