Via Dolorosa: Preston Sturges’ The Power and the Glory

Posted by on October 19th, 2010 at 1:00 PM

A saturnine saga of an American bozo’s (Spencer Tracy as Tom Garner) mottled rise to eminence as a railway tycoon: The Power and the Glory (screenplay by Preston Sturges, direction, William K. Howard) opens with the tycoon’s sumptuous funeral mass. Then, between flashback episodes, a middle-aged couple (a longtime friend/employee, Henry, and his skeptical wife) debate Garner’s qualities as an American icon. Featuring a distinctly subdued Tracy, the sensitive William K. Howard invokes the worn-but-steadfast dignity of upward-aspiring Americans in vignette-like episodes: in the earlier scenes (as a student in high school, Garner is tutored by Sally, played by Colleen Moore, whom he later marries); a notable moment — Sally, replacing Tom as railway track-walker, bearing a lantern, shawl and man’s felt hat, blown by the night wind. The vignettes of the couple debating Tracy’s virtues constitute a sardonic counterpoint to the fragmentary scenes of the tycoon’s frigid withdrawal from his first wife and tutor and the skeletal ruin of his second union; blighted further by the stain of incest. Our last view of Tracy alive shows him staggering, blurting in stricken incredulity, bordering on madness. The Power and the Glory, filmed in 1933, along with the creations of Sidney Smith, Harold Gray and Chester Gould, bears witness to the creative rallying of much American popular art, under the soldering heat of the Depression.

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