Barricade - 1950

Barricade - Released March 24, 1950. Directed by Peter Godfrey

(Film is sometimes titled in the plural 'Barricades' in advertising.)

Raymond Massey intones the dialogue of an intelligent man brimming with enthusiasm about the power of his intellect and the force of will to rule over other (often willing) people, but the limited budget of Barricade and the emphasis on building up a romantic sub-story between Ruth Roman (who spends a lot of the film knocked out in a bed) and Dane Clark sabotages this movie. This divided story scheme holds the film back, as does the just-point-the-camera visuals, but Barricade is often unusual and experimental, looking like a run-of-the-mill "oater" but it certainly is not.

If you've seen the 1941 The Sea Wolf then Barricade will seem more than a little familiar. Both are adaptations of Jack London's novel about a sea captain with a Nietzschean streak of superman egomania who brutalizes the men working for him (mostly convicts and degenerates) because he is superior (or so he says) to them both intellectually and in a way he counts as even more important: he has informers, enforcers and weapons, treating his employees as if they were convicts at a particularly vicious prison farm.

Barricade moves London's tale from an ocean-going ship to an isolated mining establishment 90 miles from civilization. Raymond Massey is "Boss Kruger" (instead of 'Wolf Larsen' as in the other film), and Ruth Roman is Judith Burns, an on-the-run prison escapee who ends up at Kruger's mining operation. Two more outsiders show up, Dane Clark as a legally-compromised cowhand named Don Peters who is recruited to work at Kruger's mine, and also a obsequious Robert Douglas as the limping and anti-violent Aubrey Milburn. After arriving at Kruger's mine, Milburn ends up as a kitchen-assistant (since Kruger assesses he's not good for much else) where he is tormented by the vicious cook called 'Tippy' played by George Stern.

Milburn is an educated man who becomes the only person Kruger feels like he can talk to on something like his own level, and he is delighted when Milburn recognizes the oil portrait of Richard III, in a Shakespearean pose, on the wall of Kruger's home (this helpfully implies a few things, if you know Shakespeare, about Kruger's Machiavellian attitudes).

Milburn and Kruger have short conversational duals over Kruger's philosophy about the right of power to rule in any fashion it sees fit. Mostly Douglas lets Massey have all the space on the screen to play his Kruger flamboyantly with a smug lack of self-awareness and dripping with condescension, not anywhere as threatening as Robinson's version of Wolf Larson from the 1941 film. Douglas is reserved and calm like a disinterested attorney arguing his side in a not particularly dramatic court case, and this makes sense as Milburn is secretly an actual lawyer, only masquerading to hid his true identity. This comes to the fore later when Boss Kruger's nephew shows up with a gang of cowboys. They intend to seize the mine in revenge for Kruger having murdered his brother for possession of the operation sometime before our film's story began.

The 1941 The Sea Wolf is the better film, and the dynamics of a threatening environment for this battle of whether might-makes-right certainly works better aboard a ship surrounded by ocean (and storms) than Kruger's mining camp with a mostly unseen expanse of dessert (one section does give us a view of the dangerous world outside when Ruth Roman and Dane Clark briefly escape the place only to discover the precious water they're carrying to enable the 90 mile trip has been salted by Kruger, forcing them to turn back).

Barricade's script by William Sackheim which moves London's novel onto land works for the most part, but some elements do not cinematically function as well, for example when actor Morgan Farley as an alcoholic christian called "The Judge" commits suicide anti-dramatically by rolling down a hill instead of leaping to his death from a tall mainmast, like Gene Lockhart as Dr. Prescott did in the 1941 film. Director Godfrey works some of the scenes in Barricade as if it is a stage play, and there is a lot of talking for a movie that looks like a typical B-Western from the 1950's, but Barricade is simply not that but something unique and offbeat for the genre, however meagre the production and delivery.

Page Nov 2017

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