Man's Castle ★★★★½

A  beautiful and touching Pre-code film by Frank Borzage, who has a special gift for showing the humanity of people who live on the margins.  The story of a community of homeless people who live in a shantytown under one of the East River bridges of lower Manhattan, centering on a love story between Bill (Spencer Tracy), a tough-talking but likeable drifter who survives by taking one odd job after another and Trina, a sweet but vulnerable young girl who is hungry and homeless when he first meets her in a Central Park.

Young has never looked more angelic, and her innocence is highlighted by soft almost ethereal lighting and photography.  Tracy is familiar in playing characters like Bill who are rough but wise, and it’s ultimately a story of the growth and redemption of the two lovers through their care and tenderness towards each other.  The other denizens the shantytown (Margerie Rambeau as an older alcoholic, Walter Connelly as a minister without a congregation, Arthur Hohl as a manipulative schemer) are also nicely drawn and acted.   Glenda Farrell has a small role as a brassy showgirl who takes a shining to Tracy in spite of him serving her with a summons - on stage in the middle of her number, no less!  Overall, the story shows the resilience and humanity of these downtrodden souls without romanticizing them.  And it’s nice to see a film that shows the harsh impact of the Depression without being polemical.  

I caught this on the Criterion Channel, which is showcasing some early films by Borzage.  I believe they leave at the end of September or October so it’s worth catching this one, before it departs.

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