Stranded - 1935
Stranded - Released June 29, 1935. Directed by Frank Borzage
Kay Francis (as Lynn Palmer) is tough, and George Brent (as Mack Hale) is tough, too, in this drama set in San Francisco. Both of their positions require it: she runs the Travelers' Aid desk at a train terminal in San Francisco where people in distress regularly show up, and he is the foreman on a bridge construction job on the Bay where racketeers, crooked union officials, and drunkenness in the crews threatens lives and the building deadline he is struggling to achieve.
Borzage starts off the film with the scene of a small child traveling alone across the country with just a luggage tag around her neck and the kindness of train conductors to make sure she gets to her destination safely. But this relatively kind scene (which also contains an odd example of racial stereotyping, circa 1935, and is also a bit of a metaphor for the whole movie) only lasts a minute or two before an old man, destitute and sent to the Travelers Aid desk for help, refuses Lynn Palmer's offer of an overnight stay at the local "guest house" ("I'm tired of charity" he says) and instead he walks off a few feet and shoots himself with a pistol.
The American economic depression of the 1930s is very much the environment for this tale, and Lynn Palmer decides to make Mack Hale understand that his view of the world, a place where people are divided into two camps: those who can help him build his bridge ("useful") and those who can't ("not useful"), is wrong-headed. He's going to have to go through a lot of pain to see Lynn Palmer's way is a lot better than the one he starts off the film with.
Kay Francis character isn't just tough, but also provides the sanity of the tale (writing is by Frank Wead and Ferdinand Reyher from the story "Lady with a Badge" with screenplay by Delmer Daves and Carl Erickson) since all of the other characters are myopically trying to achieve individual goals, no matter what this costs to the people around them. A lot of tragedy populates this tale, but this being a Warner Brothers melodrama with two star leads, their love story takes center stage and the mayhem around them falls a bit into the background.
Brent's Mack Hale might need some re-education on human values (if not 1930's woman's issues... Hale wants Palmer to marry him and put the "silly" Travellers Aid business behind her, and keep busy just taking care of him, that is if he happens to be able to go home after working on his bridge all day and into the night. Lynn Palmer declines his offer, and as he repeats it at various points in the film, she slaps it down even harder. She wants something more akin to co-equals, which is a big hurdle for Mack Hale to get over. But there's a happy ending up ahead so he'll eventually get there).
On the other hand, Hale doesn't need any help understanding basic business ethics, and he's got a lot of crookedness to face down. Brent's acting style is narrow, but he puts a lot of force into that single channel and it looks like his fight against the corruption around him is a heroic crusade, which is all the better since the character doesn't think of it as a crusade, but just part of getting the job done "right." And that's what the whole film seems to be about: Lynn Palmer and Mack Hale doing what's right.
Unfortunately, prints on this film seem to be plagued by the darkness and soft contrasts of poorly maintained film storage, and that make too much of it seem to be happening at night or just under bad lighting. Borzage uses a rapid technique to fit everything into the 72 minute run time, and he keeps all the various characters (there's plenty) defined and separated as the plot moves to the climax. Too bad it's simply hard to just see the film.
Kay Francis @ Amazon
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