Saturday 22 December 2007

Mr Winkle Goes to War (1944) Alfred E Green

This would seem to be a dream part for Edward G Robinson and one that almost nobody else could play. He's a mild mannered banker called Wilbert Winkle and as the film opens he's finally built up enough courage to point out to his boss that he wants to quit and he isn't even taken seriously. But quit he does and he goes into business fixing things, using a brand new $270 lathe with sixteen cutting attachments and a young kid from a local orphanage. Then he tells his wife, who doesn't give a monkey's about what Wilbert actually wants to do and tells everyone that it's all a malicious rumour and he'll be back at the bank shortly.

Unfortunately for Mr Winkle, just as he's getting started up he gets drafted into the US Army for service in World War II. He looks as confused and uncomfortable as only Eddie G could look and is as surprised as everyone else when he passes all the examinations and goes into basic training. He's completely out of shape and takes pills before and after everything, so is soon reassigned to a desk job, apparently the most suitable thing for him given his civilian background. However that's the last thing he wants and he pushes to get back into training so that he can be a mechanic and work with his hands.

Soon he's doing well, getting into shape, ignoring the pills and learning the various trades, and fitting in nicely alongside his compatriots like Sergeant Alphabet (really Czeidrowski) and Private Tinker, played by Richard Lane and Robert Armstrong. When the army changes the rules so that people over 38 can leave on an honourable discharge and work in a war trade, he chooses to stay in and get shipped out to the Pacific. Before you know it he's trapped behind enemy lines taking out the Japs with a bulldozer and comes home a hero.

Every time I review an Edward G Robinson I end up saying the same thing over and over again. I don't think there is such a thing as a bad Eddie G performance. The man was never even nominated for an Academy Award over a 57 year film career and yet every one of his performances is at least great and often stunning. He's the only actor of the era that I know who could be so meek and mild and have everyone and everything run roughshod over him and yet also be so tough and powerful and dominant. The two styles are entirely opposite and wouldn't seem to be compatible but he's awesome at both.

The film itself doesn't live up to his performance, as is often the case, but it's not a bad one. Armstrong is good but his little subplot doesn't get to go too far. The sergeant and the girls and the fix-it shop don't get a lot of time either and there are characters who doesn't ever seem to get explained. It's all about Winkle and how he can find a way to get along with his wife and that story's pretty good. I watched out for Robert Mitchum as an uncredited corporal but couldn't find him.

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