Tuesday 23 January 2007

Today We Live (1933) Howard Hawks

Hollywood always took liberties with source material but this one's a great example of just how things got messed around. The story comes from William Faulkner, who apparently wrote it as a story featuring three men in wartime, but the screenplay by Edith Fitzgerald and Dwight Taylor decides to add an entirely new female lead, so that Joan Crawford could have something to do. They didn't try to change the nationalities too, but Crawford, Franchot Tone and Robert Young are hardly English and their accents and attempts at clipped speech are really not good. I'm also no fashion junkie but there's no way these fit 1916 England, suggesting that Hollywood just didn't care to cast English actors and that highlighting Adrian's creations was more important than realism. And after all this is a war film. If you can't put realism in a war film what can you put it in?

The plot is a little ridiculous too, helped along by further unfortunate casting that, to be fair, wasn't the fault of the filmmakers. The romance follows Richard Bogard and Diana Boyce-Smith, known as Ann, who find and lose each other a few times through the war. Bogard, played by Gary Cooper, travels over to England halfway through World War I, apparently for no reason at all, and he rents a large Kent house from Ann, who can't afford to keep it up now that her family are all fighting abroad. Unfortunately news of her father's death arrives just after Bogard and so there's a huge amount of discomfort for a while.

That presumably doesn't last for long because next thing we know they're in love, without any apparent notice, even though she's going to get married to Robert Young who plays a childhood friend called Claude. The unfortunate casting is that the third man, the only one who she's not supposed to fall in love with, is played by Franchot Tone who she was really falling in love with at the time. That's pretty obvious too, given the way they look at each other, and it helps that Crawford, never the most glamorous star, looks pretty good here.

I was wondering how the tone of the film was going to run, given all those Hollywood names, and it seems to go fine for a while. Because England is at war in 1916 when Bogard arrives, he's asked a few questions by the military on the way into the country, and there are some half-friendly digs at the Americans, which I'm sure is highly realistic. Later as Bogard starts to understand something about the war, he volunteers, again something that a number of Americans did even before their government officially had anything to do with it. However it's later in 1916 when it becomes a little vague.

The Americans finally join in the fight for world freedom, only for Bogard to suddenly become a Captain and turn up at exactly the same place all three of the others are, because naturally everyone gets to choose where they fight during wartime and who they get to fight with. Anyway, Bogard finds the sheer audacity to berate Robert Young's character, a sailor, and take up him up in the air to show the English what war is all about. Young is depicted as halfway between a moron and a drunken idiot, but just as I start to wonder just how blatantly offensive this is going to get he suddenly becomes a hero and takes out a bunch of Germans on his first run as a forward gunner without ever being scared.

Then in return Ronnie and Claude invite Bogard onto one of their speedboats to head out through mines into an enemy harbour to fire off their torpedo at a German ship fighting back with everything they have. Claude shows his bravery once more, even though he comes back blind, and Bogard can't help but find some respect. Maybe this is all some sort of Hollywood apology for typical American arrogance, addressed by highlighting how we were really all on the same side doing what had to be done and arguing about who had most guts is pretty dumb. If so, it's a clumsy yet blatant way of showing it. Director Howard Hawks, along with Robert Rossen, listed as co-director, really ought to have known better, but maybe they were too busy showing some powerful battle scenes. That's something at least, but there isn't much else except Franchot Tone's excellent showing in only his second movie.

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