Manpower (1941): Raoul Walsh’s Well-Executed Dramedy, Starring Edward G. Robinson, Marlene Dietrich, George Raft

Raoul Walsh, the vet ultra-efficient (vastly underestimated) director, helmed Manpower, a romantic adventure, starring Edward G. Robinson, Marlene Dietrich, and George Raft.

Grade: B (***1/2 out if *****)

Manpower
Manpower movie poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

The scenario was written by Richard Macauley and Jerry Wald.

The reliable supporting cast features Alan Hale, Frank McHugh, Eve Arden, Barton MacLane, Ward Bond and Walter Catlett.

How Bogart Became Star by Accident

Raft chose Manpower over the remake of the 1931 pre-Code version of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, because it was a choice between untried first-time director John Huston and Walsh (the vet director of Raft’s 1933 hit The Bowery). He also realized that a Hays Code-era remake would not live up to its pre-Code predecessor, so the career-catapulting role of Sam Spade went to Humphrey Bogart instead.

The script is one of many reworkings of the 1932 Robinson movie, Tiger Shark, in which he played the same part, as tuna fisherman rather than electric power lineman.

A leg injury causes Los Angeles power line worker Hank McHenry to give up field work and accept promotion to foreman. His crew includes good friend Johnny Marshall and old Pop Duval, who is then killed during an ice storm.

His daughter Fay’s seeming indifference to the death irritates Johnny, but Hank is attracted to her. A hostess in a nightclub, Fay accepts money from Hank and his marriage proposal, though she does not love him.

Before a project in the Boulder Dam, an injury befalls Johnny. He is taken into Hank’s home to recuperate where Fay shows attraction but Johnny resists her.

Fay decides to leave Hank, but she is arrested in raid while visiting her old club. Johnny pays her bail and stops her leaving Hank. However, she tells Hank that she is leaving him and is attracted to Johnny; Hank misconstrues the situation, believing Johnny has betrayed him.

During bad weather storm, Hank climbs a pylon with his bad leg to attack Johnny, during which Hank falls to his death. In the end, Johnny is left to decide whether he is attracted to Fay, while she is waiting for the bus to leave town.

Raoul Walsh was keen to make the film to “correct” his reputation as a “Man’s Man” director (working with the likes of Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, John Wayne and Errol Flynn)

Production was marked by conflicts between Raft and Robinson, who at one point got into a fistfight on the set that became well-publicized. Robinson later recalled Raft as “touchy, difficult and thoroughly impossible to play with.”

Raft resented his third billing despite having the film’s biggest part. He verbally abused Robinson and pushed him around the set, later claiming that that Robinson tried to tell him how to act; he felt the actor was miscast, favoring Victor McLaglen.

Robinson and Raft appeared together again in the 1955 B-movie film, A Bullet for Joey, after both their careers had seriously declined.

Bosley Crowther of the N.Y. Times praised the film: “With such exceptional material, the Warner blacksmiths couldn’t help but make good—good, in this sense—meaning the accomplishment of a tough, fast, exciting adventure film.”

A solid box office hit, the movie earned $1,180,000 domestically and $662,000 foreign.

Cast

Edward G. Robinson as Hank “Gimpy” McHenry
Marlene Dietrich as Fay Duval
George Raft as Johnny Marshall
Alan Hale, Sr. as Jumbo Wells
Frank McHugh as Omaha
Eve Arden as Dolly
Barton MacLane as Smiley Quinn
Ward Bond as Eddie Adams
Walter Catlett as Sidney Whipple
Joyce Compton as Scarlett
Lucia Carroll as Flo
Egon Brecher as Pop Duval
Cliff Clark as Cully
Joseph Crehan as Sweeney
Ben Welden as Al Hurst
Barbara Pepper as Polly
Dorothy Appleby as Wilma

Credits:

Directed by Raoul Walsh
Written by Richard Macauley; Jerry Wald
Produced by Hal B. Wallis, Mark Hellinger
Cinematography Ernest Haller
Edited by Ralph Dawson
Music by Adolph Deutsch
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures

Release date: August 9, 1941

Running time: 103 minutes
Budget $918,000
Box office $1,842,000

Note:

TCM showed the movie on Sep 18, 2022.