Tortilla Flat (1942)

Tortilla Flat (1942)

“You’re nothing but a no-good paisano and a jailbird, like all your friends!”

When Danny (John Garfield) inherits two houses from his deceased grandfather, his lazy but persuasive friend Pilon (Spencer Tracy) convinces him to rent one out to penniless Pilon, who then rents it out to their friend Pablo (Akim Tamiroff). But their loafing, heavy-drinking lifestyle is interrupted when Danny falls for a beautiful factory worker (Hedy Lamarr), and Pilon entices a local dog-owning hobo (Frank Morgan) to move in with them and share secrets about his hoarded money.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Akim Tamiroff Films
  • Frank Morgan Films
  • Friendship
  • Hedy Lamarr Films
  • Inheritance
  • John Garfield Films
  • John Qualen Films
  • Spencer Tracy Films
  • Victor Fleming Films

Victor Fleming directed this quaint but culturally demeaning adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel, set along the central coast of California. The book’s sad ending was changed (naturally), leaving instead a comedically “heart-warming” tale of boozy moochers trying their best to maintain a lifestyle of wanton bachelorhood, but ultimately finding themselves lured by the call of domesticity and righteous behavior (and religion). It’s easy to see how this might have been an enjoyable diversion for WWII-era audiences wanting to watch something completely non-war-related, but today it simply comes across as dated and insensitive.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Karl Freund’s cinematography

Must See?
No; you can skip this one.


One thought on “Tortilla Flat (1942)

  1. First viewing. Not must-see (read the book). As per my 4/20/20 post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “I did not know I had friends who worried.”

    ‘Tortilla Flat’ (1942): An awkward screen adaptation which forfeits much of the charm of Steinbeck’s novel (which I’ve just read). Due to its strict usage of its contract players (as opposed to hiring more believable actors for certain roles, on a one-time basis), Hollywood has a considerable history of inappropriate casting – esp. when it comes to ethnic roles – and, here, Spencer Tracy (as Pilon) is a prime example. But it’s not just that he’s a white guy passing himself off as a Mexican-American (a paisano). There’s often a decided harshness in his manner (he regularly tells others to “Shut up!”) as well as a practice of deceit which, though true to the character, is described in a more delightful and excusable way in the book. John Garfield doesn’t fare much better as what should be the leading character of Danny (Tracy is, instead, given focus). A beefed-up love story gives Hedy Lamarr’s character more screen-time (though the love angle doesn’t ring all that true). A more genuine feel for the Mexican culture comes through by way of many of the peripheral actors and some of the supporting ones – i.e., Akim Tamiroff (effective but under-used as Pablo) and esp. Frank Morgan (as The Pirate) who, surprisingly, manages to channel the largest part of the sincerity and compassion that Steinbeck originally supplied. (For his effort, Morgan was Oscar-nommed. …Oh, and his character is surrounded by many dogs… one of which is played by Terry – better known as Toto… yes, *that* Toto.) Overall, the film (to me) comes off as a missed opportunity – since it seems to veer off too much from Steinbeck’s concept and his more-engaging tone.

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