Manpower, Raoul Walsh (1941)

A year after They Drive By Night, Walsh reassembles much of the team from that picture to make Manpower. It’s a terrific movie. The script is maybe a little hokey, and Alan Hale’s maybe given a bit too much comic leash, but for crying out loud: George Raft, Edward G. Robinson, and Marlene Dietrich in a Raoul Walsh movie? What more could you want?

The movie would probably have a much higher profile if its setup wasn’t so weird. Raft and Robinson are electrical linemen. It’s hard to imagine what went on in that pitch meeting; maybe a lot of Martinis were involved. The picture works very hard to make the profession seem dangerous (which it is), heroic (which it may well be), and glamorous (which it isn’t).

But you don’t watch this one for the plot. You watch it to see Raft as the heavy-lidded charmer half-angel half-snake, Robinson as — as always — the tough-as-nails sap, and Dietrich. Dietrich. Dietrich who probably doesn’t have to work too hard at her acting to convey her exquisite Weltschmerz here in the summer of 1941. It’s probably coming quite naturally.

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