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Monday, March 12, 2018

When Movie Fights Spill Over Into Life

Manpower (1941) Breaks Loose For Real

Humphrey Bogart Visits The Set To Promote Peace Between The Quarrelsome Boys

This Is No Joke --- Robinson's On A Rampage!
There was a fight between Edward G. Robinson and George Raft on the set of Manpower and it was real. The incident happened on April 26, 1941 and was caught by a photographer for LIFE magazine, where it adorned a full page and made national headlines ("they," referring to Robinson and Raft, "profoundly dislike each other off set location"). It was one thing for a fan mag to note on-set tensions, but when a major and mainstream publication reported trouble (LIFE's headline cited an "Impromptu Fight"), you knew there was truth being told. Some may still have figured the dust-up for a publicity gag, something staged to hypo Manpower's eventual release. The truth would reveal itself years later when author Rudy Behlmer dug into studio files and found memos detailing the imbroglio, these appearing in his 1985 book, Inside Warner Brothers (1935-1951), a great insider history. Seems the Manpower mess was all too genuine, and a real concern for both WB and the players involved. It did no one good to be seen as unprofessional or running a chaotic shop. To get loud publicity was one thing, but to be laughing stock of a press and industry was something else. This then, was an incident Warners could not let be repeated.

Warner's One-Sheet Exploits The Real-Life Fight
Manpower was a property no player at Warners would reject, being another whirlwind from writers Richard Macaulay and Jerry Wald, who had lately made They Drive By Night and Torrid Zone such fun. Mark Hellinger had also prepped Manpower as associate producer but fell out so severely with Hal Wallis that he left the studio. Anyone who could read (at least the script) knew that Manpower would be popular. Humphrey Bogart had been assigned and very much wanted to do it, but proposed co-star George Raft loudly said he would not appear in another film with Humphrey Bogart. Animosity seemed to be all on Raft's side, as Bogart tried to approach him and got rebuffed. Gossip about this got into the Independent Film Exhibitor's Bulletin on 4-5-41, so strife on Manpower was known well before the bigger blow to come. Bogart's part was recast with Edward G. Robinson, but Raft didn't care for that either. He was hateful toward Robinson and cursed him in front of cast and crew. Robinson tried to be reasonable, but Raft wanted none of it. His was a thuggish nature, no surprise considering his background (organized crime back East), and Robinson had reason to be afraid of him. It all came to boil during a scene where Raft had to pull Robinson off a guy and he instead roughed up Eddie G. and got a fist swung in return. The two had to be separated, and not for a last time.

Offscreen Playmates Dietrich and Raft Bat 'Er Up

The shutterbug who caught the moment got a dream of a candid capture, two major stars going at each other like mad dogs. Warners might have stopped him and took the negative, but evidently chose not to. Surely they had juice to ice the story and photo, but maybe here was a calculated risk worth taking. The studio could not have bought publicity this good. The problem was serious, however, and WB prepared a letter to the Screen Actor's Guild. Robinson, being the first to calm down, made a suggestion that they let the thing drop and not get others involved. A half-day's money had been lost, but filming resumed, hands shook and all promising to behave. Robinson and Raft made up thoroughly and even did another picture together (A Bullet For Joey in 1954), but the Manpower event entered H'wood folklore and the two were still being asked about it toward their respective ends. By then, of course, it was dust of history. Manpower had been playing late shows on a loop, and few viewers knew what had happened on a set so many years before. What we presently enjoy from Warner Archive and regularly at TCM is spent fuse of a then-TNT combination of Robinson and Raft with Marlene Dietrich, and incidentally as good a dose of Raoul Walsh as any of his actioners for WB. All Manpower presently lacks is an upgrade to High-Definition.

I watched the Archive disc last night. Quality was okay, that is if this were 1985.  There was noise on the track and I don't think it was my television. The better movies, of course, can overcome viewing conditions like this. Manpower has scenes that are exhilarating, others to remind you this was way back and standards of funny were different then. From latter category is Alan Hale sliding down a stair banister in his union suit. Hale and Frank McHugh are all over Manpower. If you can't abide them, don't watch. Action is plentiful, as in any guy stepping slightly out of line gets knocked silly, generally by hair trigger Robinson, who is a power pole worker with best pal Raft. Eddie had played the man who cured syphilis just a year before. To arguments he had no range, I say present these two performances. Manpower was largely filched from an oldie, also with Robinson, called Tiger Shark. Too many E.G.'s had him as a frog no woman with eyes would want. Bette Davis unkindly said it made her ill to have to kiss him in Kid Galahad. Eddie's own wife seems to have treated him like some of the women in his films, but ... name a better or more dynamic actor.

George Raft kept barrels of apples all through his house because they gave it a nice smell. He also had five or six different women a day, according to reliable-or-not sources. Raft probably didn't care that he blew so much opportunity in the movies. He died broke, but that may not have bothered him either. Say what you will about Raft being a dud actor, but I enjoy him anytime. He's really the best thing about Manpower. Dietrich at forty is a little past believable as an ex-con clip-joint hostess, especially as colleagues beef about being in their mid-twenties and almost played out. There's a scene where Raft slaps Dietrich down a flight of stairs and yes, it's actually her who takes the spill. I've read MD got an injury because George failed to pull the blow. All was apparently forgiven because Marlene moved in with him toward an end of production. Manpower was shot all-indoors and uses toy trucks, poles, and even toy men. It is charming for fakery that films wouldn't (couldn't) use much longer. I thought how this really isn't so different from celebration of unreal that is present day CGI, only Manpower was built by hand and so at least earns a sentimental regard.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I will watch everything with Marlene. Once showed five of her films in a row (from different directors) to a young audience that had never heard of her. They left wanting more. We don't have stars of her caliber anymore.

7:35 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

I think Raft supposedly popped Peter Lorre too. George belatedly joining the overstocked Warners roster of tough guys and bad characters seems to have ruffled feathers. One actor who apparently did take a shine to the guy was Cagney, at least according to various biographies.

9:16 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Lorre was said to have provoked George by blowing cigarette smoke in his face. Shoving and a lapel-twist ensued.

9:40 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Everybody talks about how great Curtiz is in this period at Warner Brothers and rightly so, but here's Walsh in the same period: The Roaring Twenties, They Drive By Night, High Sierra, The Strawberry Blonde, Manpower, They Died With Their Boots On, Gentleman Jim. It's The Genius of the System and the auteur theory working hand in hand to help a great director reach his all time career peak.

11:18 AM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

Stinky finds George Raft unwatchable, one of those stars, like Ruby Keeler, who leaves Stinky scratching his beautifully-coiffed head, questioning an entire generation.

12:08 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

Surprisingly, this film was never reissued on home video in the VHS days I never understood why until I finally managed to get a good recording from Spain in its original language. Despite everything that I have been reading here, the good pace and entertainment value by director Raoul Walsh, and technical details mentioned... this is nothing more than a B programmer from Warners. The fact that it is a remake of Howard Hawks's TIGER SHARK, which had more budget, it works against it since comparisons to the original version are inevitable. Despite changes here and there, the main plot is identical and that is frustrating. Everything here is obvious and predictable, which explains why it was never resurrected in the eighties for home video consumption. True, there were other classic films from this period that became available, even if they are actually weaker films. But in this case of MANPOWER, we are not speaking about a masterpiece but a time filler for movie screens.

1:28 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Although it's been exaggerated, Bogie certainly does owe his career to George Raft. If Raft has said yes instead of no to half the movies he was offered, Bogie would be a footnote. The Wolf, man.

4:26 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

As I understand directors prayed Raft would turn down roles so they could cast Bogart.

7:05 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer sees a G. Raft parallel with H. Langdon:

Raft in that "Manpower" poster looks like Harry Langdon the morning after.

You can't pull that off and be a dud.

But then, he is to melodrama what Langdon was to comedy.

That is, infinitely watchable for the obscure acting choices he makes that consistently confound expectations.

11:29 AM  
Blogger b piper said...

I don't see how anyone in his right mind could call Robinson a "limited" actor. He was one of the most versatile performers in the business. You want to talk about a major star with limited range try Spencer Tracy. Seventy five movies, two Oscars, but only one performance.

12:10 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

I had read that Robinson and Raft were both hot for Dietrich off-set, and that's what led to the fight.

12:36 PM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

Do not know about the off-screen Dietrich/Robinson relationship, but 30 years later Marlene did suggest Eddie would have been a much better choice than Brando for The Godfather.

11:25 AM  
Blogger rcocean said...

WB - at that time - was the home of short man leading actors.

Raft and Bogie were 5/8, Cagney 5/6, Eddie, Muni, and Garfield weren't much taller. Everyone could beat up on Peter Lorre - he was 5/2.

So, I doubt much damage was done in their fight.

And Eddie Robinson was about as Italian as a Lox and Bagel. Thank God Brando, a WASP but a great actor - got the part.

10:49 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

George Raft was the real deal. On stage or off a true tough guy. Yet Georgy was a easy touch for anybody who needed a saw buck!!

1:30 PM  
Blogger Weisersteve said...

Absolutely one of the greatest actors of the screen in my opinion. Robinson played wide variety of characters and genres.. even comedy in " The Whole Town is Talking" he plays opposite of himself in a movie that had me cracking up. Whoever said he was limited must not of watched him in anything but his gangster movies.

9:01 AM  
Blogger Weisersteve said...

Robinson spoke many languages and was fluent in Italian.. in my opinion, after watching almost all of his movies and a documentary about his life..he would of played Vito with great skill and enthusiasm but that is all in hindsight and very subjective..Brando was a great actor but I suggest taking a look at more of Robinson's work, outside of the gangster cycle and try to disregard predjuses such as an actors height or religion and you may be able to see this man's talent in a new light.

9:13 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

John Garfield would wipe the floor with Raft and Cagney and Robinson and Bogie!!! Garfield was also a superior actor!

9:01 PM  

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