Richard Barthelmess

Way Down East (1920)

Way Down East 1920In dire need of money, Anna Moore (Lillian Gish), a young, sheltered girl from the country, is sent by her mother to visit her wealthy family members in the big city and ask for money. Once she arrives, her snobby cousins are hardly thrilled to have their lower-class relative hanging around. But Anna does catch the eye of Lennox Sanderson (Lowell Sherman), a rich playboy who loves nothing more than a beautiful girl. Anna is thrilled to be getting attention from someone like Lennox and it’s her first real romantic infatuation.

Lennox will stop at nothing to win over a girl he’s after and when it becomes clear that Anna is the type of girl who wants marriage, he proposes to her, but tells her to keep their engagement a secret. The reason for this is because he doesn’t plan to actually marry her; he’s arranged a phony marriage to make Anna think they’re married. But when Anna ends up pregnant, Lennox reveals the truth, leaving her completely devastated. Her mother dies shortly afterward, leaving poor Anna completely alone in the world.

Anna leaves town and gets a room in a boarding house. She gives birth to a baby boy, but it isn’t long before he becomes ill and dies. The owners of the boarding house and the other tenants are not happy to have an unwed mother staying in the house and once again, Anna is forced to find another place to stay. She makes her way to Squire Barltett’s (Burr McIntosh) farm and gets a job working there. Squire’s son David (Richard Barthlemess) immediately falls in love with Anna, but he’s supposed to be marrying Kate (Mary Hay) and Anna is afraid that David would reject her because of her past.

Much to Anna’s dismay, she finds out Lennox is in town and living close to the Bartlett’s farm. He’s there in pursuit of Kate and wants Anna to leave, but she refuses and agrees not to say anything about their past. Unfortunately, when a gossipy woman in town finds out the truth about Anna’s past, it isn’t long before Squire hears about it. He kicks her out of the house in the middle of a blizzard, leaving her to wander in the woods. She becomes unconscious and falls onto an ice floe floating down the river. David rushes out to find her and rescues her just in the nick of time before she goes over a waterfall.

Like most D.W. Griffith movies, Way Down East is a bit overly long and very heavy on the drama. But despite being about 15-20 minutes too long, I still consider it my favorite feature-length D.W. Griffith movie. Way Down East‘s runtime of 2 hours and 25 minutes is pretty taut compared to Intolerance‘s three hours, it’s not wildly offensive like The Birth of a Nation, and it’s an example of how good of a storyteller Griffith could be without being bogged down by larger than life sets and controversy. The famous ice floe scene wasn’t part of the original play the movie was based on and it was a good way to interject just enough of the action and drama that’s synonymous that Griffith was famous for. Plus, it’s an excellent vehicle for Lillian Gish, who is simply incredible as Anna.

Heroes For Sale (1933)

 

Heroes for Sale 1933During World War I, Tom Holmes (Richard Barthelmess) goes off to fight with his hometown friend Roger Winston (Gordon Westcott).  At one point, Roger is supposed to undertake a risky maneuver to capture a German prisoner.  When it comes time to go through with it, Roger is paralyzed with fear and Tom jumps in to finish the job.  But then Tom is shot and Roger has to finish it himself.  Roger believes Tom is dead and is given some very impressive accolades for his bravery.  Even though Roger knows the truth, he doesn’t have it in him to tell the truth.  Meanwhile, Tom is still alive and has been getting treatment in a German P.O.W. camp.  After the war is over, Tom is released but is sent home with a bad morphine addiction.  He runs into Roger on the boat home and Roger tells Tom how awful he feels about taking his awards, but Tom is surprisingly forgiving about it.

Once they get back home, Roger is given a hero’s welcome but makes sure that Tom is given a job at his father’s bank.  However, Tom’s dependency on morphine proves to interfere with his work and Roger’s father fires him.  Tom is sent to rehab and successfully beats his addiction, and once he is released, he moves to Chicago and things finally start to look up for him.  He meets Ruth (Loretta Young), a woman who lives in the same building as him.  She works at a laundry service and suggests that he try to get a job there, too.  He starts out as a truck driver, but when his boss notices that he is the only driver bringing in new business, he is promoted.  Not only is he now bringing in more money, but he marries Ruth and the two of them soon are expecting a baby.

All is going well until Tom and Ruth’s neighbor Max comes to him with a laundry machine idea, looking for money to get a patent for it.  Tom helps Max get the money together and sells the machine to the laundry service he works at under the condition that nobody lose their job because of it.  And at first, that’s great, but then the owner of the laundry service dies suddenly and it is taken over by new management who have no interest in abiding by that rule and 75% of the employees are fired, including Tom.  The fired workers start a riot that kills Ruth, and even though Tom tries to stop them, he is sent to jail.

While in jail, Tom earns a fortune from his machine, but refuses to touch even one cent of it because he considers the money dirty.  He’s released after five years and finds that he barely recognizes his own son anymore.  He also finds out that he is a suspected communist and a group of anti-communist officers want to run him out of town.  With no other option, Tom decides to leave town, but gives all his money to his friend Mary (Aline MacMahon), who has been taking care of his son and runs a restaurant with her father.  He tells Mary to use the money to feed anybody who needs it free of charge and to take care of his son.  Once Tom leaves town, he becomes one of the many homeless drifters and finds his old “friend” Roger among them.  Roger’s father’s bank has closed and he had done some time in jail for illegal investing.  The two of them remain hopeful that the New Deal will improve things for them, and back in Chicago, we find that Mary has made sure that Tom’s son knows what an honorable man his father is.

Heroes for Sale is one of the great hard-hitting social commentary type of pre-codes.  That poster with Loretta Young in the slinky evening gown is pretty misleading.  This is such a brutally honest movie that doesn’t try to gloss over anything in the slightest.  Between the way it showed a blind veteran coming home after the war, drug addiction, and even the way Ruth died, there is absolutely nothing pretty about this movie.  And Loretta Young’s character most certainly was not wearing any glamorous evening gowns like that.  This is one of my favorite sound films by Richard Barthelmess, I thought he really hit it out of the park.  And for how much stuff happens in this movie, it is amazing that director William Wellman was able to fit all of it in in a little over an hour.  Don’t miss this movie!

Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

When Bonnie Lee’s (Jean Arthur) boat docks in Barranca, she gets off the boat thinking she’ll just be in town for the night.  But when she meets American pilots Joe (Noah Beery, Jr.) and Les (Allyn Joslyn), she’s happy to meet some fellow Americans and starts spending the evening with them.  The three of them stop into a bar, but then an order comes in that one of them has to fly out with some mail.  It’s very foggy that night, but their boss Geoff Carter (Cary Grant) is trying to land a mail delivery contract for his airline and has to stay on schedule for six months.  It’s decided that Joe must make the trip, but once he gets a ways out, they decide that it’s too dangerous for him to continue and is ordered to turn around.  When he gets back, he can’t see the runway to land.  Carter orders him to stay up until the fog clears, but he doesn’t listen and tries to land anyway.  He hits a tree on his way down, crashes, and dies.

Bonnie is deeply affected by Joe’s sudden death and is rather disturbed by the cold, distant attitude Carter seems to have about the incident.  But when some of the other pilots explain that they understand the risks of the job and that casualties are just a fact of life to them, she softens up toward Carter.  The two of them have a wonderful night together, drinking, singing, and playing the piano.  She even starts to fall in love with him!  Carter is attracted to her, too, but he’s had a bad experience with a woman that’s put him off the idea of love.  Plus he doesn’t want to give up flying and knows a lot of women couldn’t handle being married to a pilot.  Their evening is suddenly interrupted when Carter has to leave to deliver that mail.  Bonnie’s next boat is due to leave before he’d be back, but she decides at the last minute to skip the boat and stay in town for another week.  Carter is very surprised to find her waiting when he gets back, but not in a good way.  Bonnie feels stupid for having stayed, but she sticks around anyway.

But Carter is in for an even bigger surprise when Bat MacPherson (Richard Barthelmess) and his wife Judy (Rita Hayworth) suddenly arrive.  Bat’s come to town under an assumed name because he’s had a bad reputation in the flying world ever since he bailed out of a plane and left his mechanic to die.  The mechanic that died happened to be fellow pilot Kid’s (Thomas Mitchell) brother.  Carter immediately recognizes him and is hesitant to hire him at first.  The other pilots don’t want him there, but they really need the help and Bat is assigned to the most dangerous flights.  Not only that, but it turns out Bat’s wife Judy is the same woman who broke Carter’s heart.  Meanwhile, even though Carter had hurt Bonnie earlier, she continues to fall in love with him.  But after seeing one of his flights nearly go horribly wrong, she really begins to question whether or not she could handle being married to a pilot.  Then the time comes time to make the final delivery to get that mail contract.  Carter had planned to make the treacherous flight himself, but before he can leave, Bonnie accidentally shoots him in the arm and he can’t go.

Bat and Kid make the trip in his place.  When they realize they can’t fly as high as they need to, they’re told to turn around.  But on the way back, a bird hits the windshield and breaks Kid’s neck.  The plane also catches on fire and Kid tells Bat to go ahead and parachute out of the plane.  But this time, Bat is determined to not leave his companion and the two go down with the plane.  Kid doesn’t make it, but Bat survives and earns the respect of his fellow pilots.  By then, Bonnie is ready to catch her boat and move on.  When she goes to say goodbye to Carter, he gets word that the weather is clearing and he starts rushing to make that mail delivery.  But before he leaves, he tells Bonnie they should flip a coin to decide if she stays or not.  She doesn’t want to decide anything so glibly, but then she realizes he’s flipping a two-headed coin.

Even though adventure movies aren’t typically among my favorite movies, I really enjoyed Only Angels Have Wings.  I really liked that it managed to find a balance between being an action film and a romance without feeling like two different movies got stuck together.  And the best part is that both parts are carried out equally well.  Plus the cast is fantastic!  Of course, I like Cary Grant in just about anything, but I really loved him and Jean Arthur together here.  I mostly know Richard Barthelmess from his silent films and a handful of his pre-codes, so it was nice to see him in this.  This was one of Rita Hayworth’s first substantial roles.  She doesn’t have a particularly big part, but she made herself noticeable and this movie really helped her career.  And to top it all off, it’s got superb direction from Howard Hawks!  All in all, an excellent movie.