“I know that all my promotions and decorations belong to you. I know that I’ve stolen the credit from a real hero.”
A war veteran (Richard Barthelmess) whose cowardly comrade (Gordon Westcott) has accepted all the glory for his heroism battles a morphine addiction, then starts life anew in Chicago, where he prospers as the co-owner of a labor-saving laundry machine and marries his sweetheart (Loretta Young). His luck turns again, however, when he’s falsely accused of inciting a riot, and sent away to prison — but he refuses to give up on his dream of helping those less fortunate than himself.
William Wellman’s hard-hitting tale of an unsung war hero whose [for]giving nature brings him both deep satisfaction and cruel treatment is, as noted in TCM’s review, “ungainly” yet “also unfailingly urgent and never boring”. The film starts off with a compelling exploration of bravery and cowardice during the heat of battle, and we wait with bated breath to hear Barthelmess’s reaction to Westcott’s stinging betrayal; once this is revealed, however (no revenge is taken by the extraordinarily good-hearted Barthelmess), the screenplay veers from one episode to another in rapid-fire succession — Westcott does show up again, but only in the film’s final scene, in order for Wellman to make the point that both rich and poor suffered under the iron grip of the Great Depression. In the meantime (as indicated in TCM’s assessment) we become oddly compelled by Barthelmess’s travails, watching his character emerge as a true “hero” of the era — someone who is decidedly not for sale, at any cost. The fine cast of supporting actors (particularly Aline MacMahon in a pivotal role) adds to the enjoyment of this unusual little film.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Richard Barthelmess as Tom Holmes
- Gordon Westcott as Tom’s cowardly comrade
- Aline MacMahon as Tom’s landlady and friend
- Loretta Young as Tom’s wife
No, but it’s recommended.