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Pittsburgh
cast: Marlene Dietrich, Randolph Scott, John Wayne, Frank Craven, and Louise Allbritton

director: Lewis Seiler

88 minutes (U) 1942
Universal Pictures DVD Region 2 retail


RATING: 3/10
reviewed by Jim Steel
Propaganda pieces can be excused much under the circumstances, but this does not make a bad film any easier to watch now. Credit must go where it is due - this film is not dull. It is pretty painful at times, though.

We start at the end. 'Cash' Evans (Randolph Scott) is eulogising the American worker at a public address. American industry has been called upon to produce the materials of war the defeat the enemy during the Second World War, and it has risen to the challenge. 'Pittsburgh' (John Wayne) is present, but Josie Winters (Marlene Dietrich) is conspicuous by her absence. Now back to where it all started.

Cash and Pittsburgh are two unlikely looking coal miners, and after a hard shift at the coalface, there is nothing they'd like more that a drink before going into town. Unfortunately this is the 1920s and prohibition is in force. However, this isn't going to stop our two resourceful heroes. They decide to pop in to see the local doctor (played by Frank Craven) and see is they can pick up something on prescription. They don't bother to knock but just march in and start to search the place. The Doc walks in on them and doesn't seem too concerned (boys will be boys), and he starts lecturing them on an industrial process involving coal tar that he has just discovered. The Doc has an industrial lab set up in his living room (!), but Pittsburgh procures the whisky and he is happy enough. Now all he needs is some new clothes.

Their next port of call is a tailor. Pittsburgh tries on a suit but doesn't have the money to pay for it. On walking outside they notice a prize fight across the road that is promoted by Josie's boyfriend. Pittsburgh decides that they can earn enough there to pay off the tailor (who is naturally going bananas by this time). However, when the promoter asks for a volunteer to go three rounds with the champ, Pittsburgh puts Cash up for it instead. Cash starts to look like he is about to whip the champ when the promoter tries to throw the fight. A massive brawl erupts and our heroes escape. Note that this scene proves that Scott's character can brawl - it doesn't take a genius to work out that there will be a showdown between him and Wayne later.

On leaving, they discover that there's been an accident down t'pit. They steal Dietrich's car, speed through an anachronistic back projection that has been filmed in the 1940s, and get to the pit in time to help out. Dietrich was in the back of the car, much to everyone's surprise, but she helps out with the rescue as well. This inspires Wayne and Scott to go into partnership and become steel moguls, using Doc's expertise. Wayne spurns Dietrich and marries Shannon Prentiss as he climbs to the top. His hubris is his downfall and he ends up back at square one, while Scott and Dietrich marry. However, when war is declared, Wayne decides to do his bit and joins the shop floor of Scott's company under an assumed name. Then we get the old you-can't-keep-a-good-man-down and let's-all-pull-together-for-America routines.

It's not the worst film in its genre, but it's no Went The Day Well? You may have noticed the interchange of actor and character names, but it was hard to separate them at times. Wayne in particular seemed to have been cast to type as a gung-ho bully, but director Lewis Seiler was no John Ford. Ford, incidentally, was being dive-bombed in the Pacific around this time. Wayne, all-American hero that he was, had apparently concocted a medical condition to ensure he wouldn't be called-up. Scott looks out of place, Craven looks like a cliché, and Dietrich looks bored.
NEXT

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