Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Loretta's Alone in the World

A man sits on a park bench, casually feeding pigeons.  He is dressed in dinner clothes; he appears to be quite wealthy, both in his garb and demeanor.  Beside him, a young woman quietly cries.  He brusquely asks her why.  She has lost her job, and hasn't eaten for 2 days.  He opines that there is absolutely no reason for her to starve, and whisks her off for a meal.  Thus begins Man's Castle (1933), a precode film, starring Spencer Tracy as Bill and Loretta Young as Trina. 

Considering the disposable nature of movies in this period, and the fact that the plot centers on a couple living together without benefit of marriage, it is fascinating that the film was reissued in 1938, with about 9 minutes of content deleted (this is the cut of the film we can see today).  Included in these cuts is a shot of Loretta Young jumping nude into the water.  Yet, even with this elimination, it is obvious that Trina (who we see enter the water) is skinny-dipping.  It's puzzling how even this version was able to pass the censors. A shortened version of Man's Castle was also aired twice (in 1939 and 1941) on the Lux Radio Theatre, both times with Spencer Tracy reprising his role.
Set amid the Depression, Man's Castle presents a picture of a man running from responsibility and the woman who loves him and is willing to tolerate his constant dreaming.  We found Bill very much like the little boy who smacks you to tell  you he likes you.  Though it is apparent that he loves Trina, he is constantly plaguing her with speeches about his eminent departure.  He continually belittles her, calling her Whoositz", and poo-pooing her dreams of a future. Bill is a pipe dreamer, with little grasp of reality.  Even his attempts to steal enough money so that Trina can live comfortably demonstrate his immaturity.

Though we have no real back-story on either character, it is clear that Trina recently became unemployed.  What she did before she met Bill is not discussed.  She also has been evicted from her apartment; again, it is clear that this is a recent event.  Despite her loneliness and destitution, Trina retains a positive view of life, and of Bill.  While Bill thinks he is smart, is is clear that Trina is much smarter than he is. She is able to run the house; she plans for them both, and (while she fears his departure), she knows his heart better than he knows it himself.

The real-life relationship between Loretta Young and Spencer Tracy is discussed in this TCM article.  The couple fell in love, but as we discussed last week, marriage between the two was as impossible here as it would be for Young and Gable several years later.  Ultimately, Young decided to end what had become a very public affair. 
As always, we have some interesting character performances here.  We've seen the Marjorie Rambeau before, when she played Ginger Roger's mother in Primrose Path.   Here, as Trina's only real friend,  the alcoholic Flossie, she becomes the avenging angel for pair against the rather distasteful Bragg (Arthur Hohl).  She is both sympathetic and frightening.  It becomes obvious early on in the film that things will not end well for Flossie.

Always delightful is Walter Connolly as Ira.  A man of religion, Ira also protects Trina and Bill.  But where Flossie's response to the events of her life are anger and escape, Ira looks at life squarely, and looks to his God for guidance.

It's an interesting movie - one that makes you hunger for the uncut version.  Regardless, it is worth a look - here's a look at the scene we first discussed:

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