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Power and the Glory / Me and My Gal / Stanley and Livingstone - Triple Feature, The
First up is The Power and the Glory (1933), which stars Tracy as industrialist Tom Garner, who carved out a significant chunk of the railroad business for himself before unexpectedly committing suicide. On the day of his funeral, most people have very little in the way of nice things to say about Tom, but Henry (Ralph Morgan) remains defensive of his friend's frequently controversial actions. When Henry's wife (Sarah Padden) takes a certain satisfaction in knowing Henry's in the ground, it sets Henry off on a long trip down memory lane, recounting his memories growing up with Tom when they were children, and sticking by him during the long, hard climb from the bottom of the railroad business to the top. Tom's infidelity, ruthlessness, and Tom's death are seen through Henry's vantage point.
Far be it from me to disagree with the Library of Congress, which selected this movie for the National Film Registry, but this slowly-paced dose of nostalgia never quite grabbed my attention. Part of the reason the film was selected for the NFR stems from it being one of the first films to use the flashback structure to tell the story. Although I have no reason to dismiss or disregard the film's place in movie history, I can't say I was particularly drawn in by the format, which aims for a certain moral complexity but never quite feels as natural as it ought to. Tom is a tragic figure, but that tragedy always feels as if it's happening at arms' length. Despite Tracy's best efforts, it's hard to feel much either way about Tom given we know he's already gone; without the sense of the dwindling chance for him to redeem himself slipping through his fingers, sorrow for Tom's sliding scruples is muted. Tracy is good in the film, and he works well with Colleen Moore, who plays his wife, Sally. Her story works even when the movie doesn't: watching her get swept aside in the rush actually hits harder as an inevitability than a question.
Next, we have Me and My Gal, which finds Tracy playing Danny Dolan, a police officer working the beat down near the docks. In addition to the local collection of oddballs, drunks, and animals, it's here that he first encounters Helen Riley (Joan Bennett), a lovely young lady who works in a chowder shack. Although the two start out by trading good-natured jabs, eventually their relationship starts heating up. Meanwhile, Helen's sister's relationship is also heating up, but not as pleasantly -- Kate (Marion Burns) has fallen for one of the city's biggest gangsters, Duke Castenega (George Walsh), and it'll be up to Danny and Helen to help get her away from him alive.
The appeal of Me and My Gal is pretty simple: Tracy and Bennett have excellent chemistry. It's fun watching them flirt with one another, and the script's got some strong one-liners to support them. In one entertaining sequence, the film beats Annie Hall to the punch by about 40 years, as the two of them lie on a couch, each saying one thing but thinking another. It's just a shame there isn't more of it, especially given how the gangster subplot doesn't really do anything but fill time. It features some interesting ideas, such as a paralyzed man who only communicates by blinking, but they feel like they'd be better served in a thriller or action movie as opposed to being the B-thread in a romantic comedy. The antics of a local drunk also get a little tiring after awhile. The film was apparently a huge bomb at the box office, but it's a fun little trifle.
The set wraps up with Stanley and Livingstone, which features what I consider the best Tracy performance in the set. Tracy is Henry M. Stanley, a man who will stop at nothing to get the best story for the New York Herald, including putting his own life on the line. It's this kind of determination that convinces his editor to ask Stanley to go to Zanzibar, where he will try and track down world-famous missionary David Livingstone (Cedric Hardwicke), who disappeared into the jungle months before, and has just been declared dead by Lord Tyce (Charles Coburn), who owns their competitor, the Globe. With a bottomless budget and a certain smug self-confidence, Stanley is happy to go into the jungle, but the expedition proves more challenging than he could have imagined, dragging on for months and months as he chases down fruitless leads. Before long, he is a changed man, discovering something in the jungle much more compelling than a single human being.
Of all three films, this is the one that Tracy truly headlines, with no co-stars taking up more than a supporting role. As such, the slow-building tension and frustration is all on Tracy's shoulders, and he paints a real picture of a man whose ideals are changing under pressure. Stanley begins to panic, but Tracy approaches that panic with a certain subtlety, getting more out of a blank stare into the distance than some would get out of a hysterical rant. The film touches on some interesting social issues -- it's quite a tragedy to hear the characters speaking about problems the African people face in a film from 1939 and realize many of those problems have yet to be solved in 2015 -- and manages to do so without becoming overly preachy. The film ends with a rousing speech by Tracy, which he delivers with crackling energy, one which is met by a certain kind of regressive resistance to reason and progress that is also depressingly familiar in the 21st century.
As with the Susan Hayward triple feature, this three-disc set comes in a single-width, eco-friendly DVD case (less plastic, no holes). The art is a reformatted version of what Fox Cinema Archives used on their initial release, framed inside their usual gold border template. Each movie comes on its own DVD-R, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
The three 1.33:1 full-frame presentations on this disc are middling to poor, with The Power and the Glory looking the worst, riddled with print damage and and incredibly soft-looking image (the film was briefly considered "lost" and needed to be reassembled, so although the image doesn't look good, the quality of it is understandable). The image quality progressively improves, to my eyes, with Me and My Gal looking a bit sharper and far cleaner than Glory, and Stanley and Livingstone looking the best. Sound is Dolby Digital 2.0 across the board, and these feature the same relative qualities as the picture, with Glory sounding the roughest. At one point, there is even a section of voice-over missing from Glory, although it only lasts for a couple of seconds. Disappointingly, as with all Fox Cinema Archives titles, no captions or subtitles are included.
I concede that while I wasn't drawn into The Power and the Glory's tale of corruption, it's viewed by many as a landmark, influential film, and they'd be thrilled to have it in their collections. Maybe they are less enthused by the other two films and would be better off buying individually, but as far as I'm concerned, this is two enjoyable films and one important one, which is more than worthy of a recommendation to those who are interested and haven't already got one or more of them.
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