Based on a novel by Erich Maria Remarque and with the screenwriting credit of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the 1939 film Three Comrades won a National Board of Review award. Although there are light moments, the story is often somber and at times, downright melodramatic. I've noticed that many viewers call this a love story, and with the devotion between Margaret Sullavan and Robert Taylor the reason they do is clear. However, I view it as a friendship story, because the bond among the three men is the integral thread of the story (it is called Three Comrades for a reason). There is so much love and respect among the three friends that it spills over into all of their actions and into each of their lives. Robert Taylor, Robert Young, and Franchot Tone play three German soldiers who fought in World War I together and have been together ever since. Although they are German and in Germany, there are no German accents whatsoever! This is a very common issue with early Hollywood films (and even many filmed today) and although it did bother me a bit, the lack of accent accuracy does not hurt the film's impact.
Learning mechanic work during the war, the three comrades open up a car repair shop. Erich (Robert Taylor) is the gentle soul looking for love, Gottfriend (Robert Young) is a liberal idealist eager to help the cause, and Otto (Franchot Tone) is the wise, world-weary one who tends to see both sides of the coin. Some automobile road fun leads to a chance meeting with Patricia (Margaret Sullavan). All three are attracted to her, but Erich falls head over heels.
Patricia confides to Otto that she is very weak and has tuberculosis. Otto keeps her secret and encourages Patricia to embrace love and marry Erich. Patricia and Erich do marry and have a few very happy months together before her lungs begin to weaken. Meanwhile, Otto and Gottfried get caught up in political violence.
*Spoiler Alert* There are a lot of sad moments in the drama. To be honest, I was not a fan of Sullavan's fatalistic, morose character. I liked her very much in the beginning, but I was frustrated by her character as time went on. As more sacrifices were made by her friends and more opportunities presented by her doctors, Patricia just becomes more and more determined that she is not meant to live. I understand that living with a cure-less chronic illness can be spirit-breaking and that often you feel like your mere existence is a burden to your loved ones. That being said, it broke my heart to see how loved Patricia was and how the guys were willing to sacrifice everything they had to help her live in comfort, and then to watch her just give up. *End of Spoiler*
Franchot gives a quiet, understated performance as Otto, the steady, dependable car mechanic who will stop at nothing to protect his friends. Franchot is given the chance to really shine as the working class war veteran. This is a rare 30s vehicle for Franchot, as he has no love interest and only briefly wears a tuxedo.
You can purchase Three Comrades on Amazon. You may need a box of tissues to go with it! :)