THREE COMRADES (1938) B/W 99m dir: Frank Borzage

w/Margaret Sullavan, Robert Taylor, Robert Young, Franchot Tone, Lionel Atwill, Guy Kibbee, Henry Hull, George Zucco, Charley Grapewin, Monty Woolley

Erich Maria Remarque's novel about post World War I Germany is turned into a sensitive film. Not much on plot, but deep in mood and character study. Oscar-nominated Sullavan is superb as a young woman in love with an unsettled, sick veteran of the losing side.

From The Movie Guide: "Sullavan is superb in this bleak drama, her throaty voice and striking looks at their very best. (She was to gain an Oscar nomination for her role and was named the year's best actress by the New York Film Critics Association.) The actress was a bit difficult during filming, however. According to a long-standing superstition, she refused to work until a rainfall occurred, and she also protested that some of coscripter [F. Scott] Fitzgerald's dialogue was unspeakable. Producer [Joseph L.] Mankiewicz agreed with his star and, with the help of other studio writers, rewrote and excised much of the script, to Fitzgerald's great disgruntlement and later vilification of Mankiewicz. In fact, Mankiewicz was himself a talented screenwriter and understood far better than the proud novelist the basic elements of a good visual presentation. (Other scenes were edited out for less obvious reasons, among them several that concerned the rise of Naziism. Objections were raised by the Breen Office --- the industry's self-censorship group --- and the film was also cut as a result of [MGM] studio chief Louis B. Mayer's reluctance to offend the Germans and lose the export market.) Although he continued to write screenplays, and was even signed by the studio at the enormously high salary (for the time) of $1,250 weekly, this was to be Fitzgerald's only credited screenwriting assignment. Sullavan's leading man, Taylor, is unconvincing in is role, which he had not wanted to play. Cinemogul Mayer had to persuade the actor that the part would lend him prestige and help to erase the pretty-boy image he had developed over the course of his career. The picture is well directed by romance-drama specialist Borzage, but overlong, and only partly redeemed by Sullavan's splendid performance."

Ruthe Stein's article about the film, from the San Francisco Chronicle, 23 June 2013: "The most recent movie based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby [Baz Luhrmann's 2013 version] has brought new attention to the novelist, who epitomized the Jazz Age. But there was a later chapter in Fitzgerald's career, between 1927 and 1937, when he trekked to Hollywood several times to try his hand at screenwriting --- with meager results. While Fitzgerald worked on numerous scripts, including The Women and Madame Curie, he wound up with only one credit, for Three Comrades.

"That the movie is a gem is at least in part because of Fitzgerald's contribution. The dialogue is rich and rings true to conversations unsettled young people would have had at the end of World War I. Erich Maria Remarque wrote the novel on which the film is based. The title Three Comrades refers to Robert Taylor, Robert Young and Franchot Tone as buddies who served in the war together and are now faced with the reality of peacetime. They become involved with an heiress who loses all her money but none of her joie de vivre. Margaret Sullavan is heartbreakingly lovely in the role, for which she scored an Oscar nomination. Almost certainly, Fitzgerald would have seen parallels between this character --- who was a life force yet is stricken with tuberculosis and consigned to a sanitorium --- and his wife, Zelda, the belle of every party who was diagnosed with mental illness and spent many years in and out of institutions.

"The language with which Sullavan and Taylor's characters express their love sounds inimitably like Fitzgerald. 'When I think of life before you, I thank God for you,' Taylor whispers to her, while one of his pals asks rhetorically, 'What is it about love that makes you eat your food whole instead of cutting it up?' A subplot looks at the violence and unrest in Germany between the world wars. This is a country awaiting Hitler to give it direction.

"Fitzgerald became known in Hollywood for being too literate at the expense of showing things visually. Pairing him with the very visual director Frank Borzage (... The Mortal Storm) was ideal. Borzage's scenes of rioting in the streets are most impressive, and his final shot of the friends is an exquisitely framed ending likely to elicit tears."