Manpower (1941)


With Marlene Dietrich in the lead rôle (and it was she who carried the story), Walsh was trying to make a point about the raw deal women got by just about everyone in the Hollywood establishment. Relegated to the status of ‘Mouse’, or opportune studio whore, there was no respect or admiration for the toughness of American women who took care of their men and got none of the credit for leading America out of the Great Depression, or through the coming war.

Strange that this point had to be made with a ‘foreigner’, and one given a jailhouse history, as if excusing her independence and indifference to just who it is that’s using her. Resigned to the fact she will be used. It is a spit in the face for all religious and conservative theories about women of the times. It is a defiant call particularly appropriate to contemporary America, in which adolescent boys in men’s bodies once again try to reduce the status of women in America to that of domestic slaves or sex toys.

Unfortunately Walsh didn’t really know what to do with the film. There were some great shots of dams and power lines, but not enough of the intricacies of being a bride of convenience, or being taken advantage of by everyone – including the establishment (by metaphorical agency of the cops who arrest everyone in Quinn’s clip joint). I guess the fuckers who run Hollywood won out with some sanctimonious message that didn’t make them look as bad as they really were.

I suppose I would have hung on to a woman like her too. I could just see us cooking or doing some other domestic chore with cigarettes hanging out of the corners of our mouths. Knowing that we were just going through the motions.

I like the idea of gentle, softly-spoken Edward G Robinson mixing it up with wanna-be gangster George Raft about the top billing. I think I would have liked Edward Robinson. A lot. I hope Edward got in a few good shots. Both men were pretty diminutive by the standards of contemporary screen tough-guys, but tha has always been a myth; the guys who hit me hardest in my time were always smaller than I am.


Warner Brothers, 103 minutes, black and white.

Directed by Raoul Walsh. Written by Richard Macauley, Jerry Wald. Cinemtaography by Ernest Haller. Produced by Hal B Wallis, Mark Hellinger. Music by Adolph Deutsch.

Featuring Edward G. Robinson as Hank ‘Gimpy’ McHenry, Marlene Dietrich as Faye Duval, George Raft as Johnny Marshall, Alan Hale as Jumbo Wells, Frank McHugh as Omaha, Eve Arden as Dolly, Barton MacLane as Smiley Quinn, Ward Bond as Eddie Adams, Walter Catlett as Sidney Wipple.

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