Man's Castle (1933)

Genres - Crime, Drama, Romance  |   Release Date - Oct 27, 1933 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 70 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Bruce Eder

A Man's Castle (1933) could easily be a candidate for the best movie released by Columbia Pictures during the first half of the 1930's -- and ranks right alongside the best work of Frank Capra, who was usually regarded as the studio's ace-in-the-hole. And, ironically, it's a film whose key players -- director Frank Borzage, nd stars Spencer Tracy and Loretta Young -- were never closely associated with Columbia. And courtesy of Joseph August's cinematography, it's certainly the best-looking picture to come out of the studio during this period, yet it isn't lacking for grit, or a verisimilitude of poverty and life on the skids, or an array of rich and fascinating characters and players, of whom the two lead performances are only some of the fine elements to be discovered. Borzage has pulled off one of his frequent conjuring tricks, mixing honest, raw emotion, all on the surface and in your face, with a comparatively subdued sentimentality and belief in romance, and pulled it all together through the performances of Tracy and Young. There are moments where the uncertainty that afflicted Spencer Tracy's career during this period get close to the surface -- in the early part of the picture, he's pushed a little close to James Cagney territory, whereas later on, it seems as though he's aiming for Wallace Beery, but he never quite falls into an identifiable groove, and in the end comes out as . . . Spencer Tracy. The big surprise in this picture is Loretta Young -- her early work, which is hardly seen enough, shows an actress of surprising depth and the ability to reach audiences with small nuances and understated approaches to a role; all of this will amaze viewers who only know her later, rather over-the-top and self-conscious performances, which usually don't wear well. And to top it off, we also get highly workwhile supporting performances from Marjorie Rambeau, Arthur Hohl (in a surprisingly subtle villain turn), Glenda Farrell, and Walter Connolly. A Man's Castle is full of surprises, in terms of its look, and its plot, and characterizations, but Young's work may be the biggest of a brace of revelations, all of them rewarding and well worth tracking down.