Cathedral lighting bathes the funeral, the solemnity is broken from the sidelines: "I'm glad he croaked, the old...!" The millionaire's life as a friend's novelistic remembrance -- Spencer Tracy goes from carefree young trackwalker to ruthless railroad tycoon, Ralph Morgan eulogizes glumly, reverently. It all comes down to the distance between childhood exaltation (the great man as a boy about to dive from a tree branch) and corruption beneath old-age pancake (Tracy sinking to his knees upon news of his cuckolding); temporal fracturing separates the two dots, so that Tracy's elderly wife (Colleen Moore) throws herself in front of a streetcar only to minutes later be revived and made young again. Preston Sturges' inculcation of Lord Acton ("I wanted the power and the glory. You wanted to go fishing") was deemed the most perfect of scripts by Jesse Lasky, who ordered William K. Howard to direct it verbatim. Howard sneaks in some inventiveness in the transitions (pan-dissolves, coffee filters laid over the lenses), but the presiding barrenness is embodied in the sequence in which every last word of Morgan's monologue about rock-climbing and marriage proposals is intoned while Tracy and Moore pantomime it. The myth goes that the bony, doggedly unsmiling film that resulted was screened dozens of times before the making of Citizen Kane, but that's just because Pauline Kael could not wrap her mind around the fact that the film being worn out in Welles' screening room was really Stagecoach. Moore exposes (and transcends) the poverty of the prolix approach by evoking silent-film force while giving her character's mask of powdered sorrow a brief twitch of life right before her suicide. A mummified picture; the best criticism came from Sturges himself, voiced by The Great Moment's doctor: "The trouble with you is that you cannot remember anything." With Helen Vinson, Phillip Trent, Sarah Padden, and J. Farrell MacDonald. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce