Tuesday 11 December 2007

Huddle (1932) Sam Wood

Ramon Novarro was one of the great silent screen heroes though his career slowly vanished in the sound era, quite possibly through the influence of studio boss Louis B Mayer because he was gay and refused the lavender marriage option. Unlike someone like William Haines, Novarro could get away with playing tough manly roles but his voice was a litle high pitched to keep that going as sound took over. Here though he starts out playing someone that would nowadays be played by someone like Sylvester Stallone, which does seem a little strange.

He's Antonio 'Tony' Amatto, a working class Italian boy from Gary, IN, who leaves the ironworks on a company scholarship to go to Yale. Naturally he doesn't fit in right off the bat and ends up breeding an animosity to a character called Tom Stone, who happens to be the football captain, the college's prize boxer and the son of the ironworks chairman. Just as naturally the girl he falls for is Tom Stone's sister Rosalie, and the girl that falls for him is Tom Stone's girlfriend Barbara. Needless to say, he quickly turns into about the most unpopular student on campus.

Luckily when it comes to the sophomore year he makes one good friend and makes an impression on the football team, but he's still a pain in the ass. He has a knack of upsetting the wrong people at the wrong moments, getting drunk exactly when he shouldn't and playing dirty when there's really no need. He's definitely the hero but he's a hothead and an idiot and it's easy to understand why he's so unpopular. There's a lot of work done to point the reasons at the difference in class background, but that's a little unfair. Tony is just an ass, pure and simple, at least until he starts a fight with his football coach and sees the light. Even when the class thing becomes very apparent through Rosalie's father's influence, but even he wasn't born to riches.

The cast is good. Novarro always impresses, and just about gets by as a Yale student even though he was 33 at the time. He looks a lot younger than football coach Ralph Graves, who was only 32. It's good to see him in something that doesn't involve planes: I only know him from The Flying Fleet, Flight and Dirigible, which belies whatever diversity the man could bring to film. Una Merkel is always solid and Madge Evans is a fetching love interest. In supporting roles, Kane Richmond is just there as Tom Stone, but John Arledge and Frank Albertson get some good scenes. Henry Armetta and Ferike Boros are fine stereotypical Italian parents, as annoying as that makes them.

The story though is clumsy and doesn't do its players justice. The passing of time is terrible, the whole class thing is woefully mismanaged and the various subplots don't satisfy. The whole rivalry between Tony and Tom Stone is completely wasted. At the end of the day this is little more than an opportunity to watch Ramon Novarro in the sound era before his MGM contract was not renewed in 1935. For some people, there's opportunity to see a lot of Yale customs, with traditional songs all over the place, and even some stock footage of historic American football games. I really don't care about either so they don't add anything to my enjoyment of the film but they could be valuable to some.

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