AN AMERICAN ROMANCE (1944) C 121m (cut from 151m) dir: King Vidor
w/Brian Donlevy, Ann Richards, Walter Abel, John Qualen, Horace McNally, Robert Lowell, Mary McLeod, Ray Teal, Jackie "Butch" Jenkins
Donlevy is excellent in this strong WWII drama which tells the story of the rise of an illiterate young immigrant to wealth and power between the early 1900s and WWII.
From the Monarch Film Series book, King Vidor, written by John Baxter, who interviewed Vidor extensively about his films: "[Spencer] Tracy's success in Northwest Passage made his refusal to star in An American Romance (1944) even more hurtful to Vidor. Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten, his choices for female lead and second lead, were also unavailable, and he compromised on a cast of Brian Donlevy, Ann Richards --- a young Australian actress who would make her name later in [William] Dieterle's Love Letters --- and Walter Abel, one with which, today , he is happier than at the time. Perhaps because of his dissatisfaction with the cast, the actors in An American Romance seem even more subservient to the landscape than usual. It is a film of almost stylized simplicity, reducing Vidor's preoccupations to the simple conjunction of one man and the industrial landscape. Emerging blinking from the immigrant boat, Steve Dangloss [Baxter may be incorrect on the last name of Donlevy's character, which is elsewhere reported to be "Dangos"] makes his way alone, mostly on foot, to the steel country, where he confronts the might of American industry in the form of a simple symbol, another lone European (John Qualen) tearing at a hillside with a steam shovel. Thereafter, it immerses him --- almost literally when molten metal slops down on him from a ladle as he stands trapped in a pit --- and Vidor's documentation of the steel mills of Gary and Duluth gains an extra dimension from the presence of Dangloss, who personifies the conflict between man and nature.
"Trimmed of thirty minutes by MGM, An American Romance lacks some spectacular action scenes (including one in which Dangloss slips down an ore chute into a ship's hold) as well as the incidental detail of his marriage to the schoolteacher Anna [Richards], the growth of his family, and his daughter's marriage which might have made it less of a stylized spectacular. In the shortened film, Dangloss rockets to magnatehood, designing a new automobile, branching out into aircraft and in time tooling America for war, all in the course of a few scenes, but the final effect is to dramatize with typical Vidor romanticism the possibilities for victory in the battle with nature if only, like Rogers in Northwest Passage and Roark in The Fountainhead, one will sacrifice all and not be swerved.
"That Vidor may have seen himself in the same light as these mythical characters is suggested by his frequent confrontations with Hollywood's most domineering moguls, men with whom no director could hope to work except with a maximum of friction. Sam Goldwyn, Irving Thalberg and David Selznick totally opposed Vidor on three matters closest to his heart, Goldwyn in the creation of screenplays, Thalberg in his subservience to popular appeal, Selznick in the choice of locations. Yet it was for these three men that Vidor created his best work. 'One often has to make films just to keep one's name in the public eye,' he remarks, but the rationalization is thin. It is far more likely that only while working with such men was he pressured to do his best."