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Susan Green

To See or Not to See

(9 September 1940)

From Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 22, 9 September 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Crooked Politics of the Past

In a lively action film with plenty of verbal and fistic give-and-take, Paramount has produced a humorous satire of the days when political graft was less streamlined than it is today. The party czar, who in this case is also at the controls of the other party, has in his hands everything worth having. Business men squirm but have to pay the heavy tributes he demands. The taxpayers’ millions go into unnecessary and defective buildings and bridges contracted to the political boss’s companies.

McGinty enters this scheme of things as a pugnacious and pugilistic bum on an election-day breadline, where it is whispered to him he can earn $2 if he votes for so-and-so for mayor. McGinty votes 37 times at a gross earning of $74 plus the attention of the political boss who is convinced he can use such a pushing piece of humanity, McGinty rises from alderman to mayor to governor as a shield for the boss crook – and the monuments of graft rise in multiple proportion. Tamiroff plays the political boss with gusto and skill. Brian Donlevy as the cluck whose brains are in his fists is cut out for the part.

The Great McGinty falls as did Adam – he listens to his Eve who wants him to go in for reform. There follow a fight between McGinty and the boss, the arrest of the boss for attempted assassination of the governor, the arrest of the governor for fraud, and the escape of both to a banana port in Central America, where they live in perpetual combat – the boss as the owner of a bar and the great McGinty as the bartender who has an aversion to ringing up sales.

Since Paramount has made such a good start in the field of political exposé, it is suggested that national politics of 1940 offers rich material. But of course that may. interfere with the “national defense program.” It is indeed more patriotic to “expose” only the past.

Pro-English Propaganda

If you want to develop an inferiority complex about yourself and our time, go see Errol Flynn and his sea pirates carry on for two solid hours. Nothing is too much for these supermen of the sixteenth century and their Captain. Thorpe, one of the sea hawks or privateers who with their pirate ships were, according to Hollywood, the main naval defense of the England of Queen Elizabeth. This Thorpe sinks Spanish ships, crosses the Atlantic to rob the Spaniards of gold pilfered from Central America, survives betrayal and a sojourn in the deadly jungle, frees himself and all his men from the chains and irons of a Spanish galley just in time to get valuable papers for his queen, and wins knighthood and a bride.

But more important these days – if you want to see how subtle pro-English propaganda is put over, have a look in on The Sea Hawk. In this sixteenth century struggle between England and Spain for dominance on the seas, the British were of course the heroes and: the Spaniards the villains: The Spaniards used galley-slaves to propel their vessels, but the freedom-loving English relied on the free wind in their sails. When the sea hawks plundered a Spanish vessel, the first thing they did was to free the galley-slaves. The Spaniards were intriguers and maintained a fifth column right in the court of the queen, while she, dear lady, thought only of maintaining peace for the good of her subjects. The Spaniards plundered the Latin American Indians, but the English privateers plundered the Spanish ships to get gold for their queen, to build a navy, to put an end to Spanish plundering. Catch on?


The Grapes of Wrath quite obviously inspired this imitation. Except for some excellent shots of dust storms and of a town half buried in its own top soil, the back bone of authenticity is pretty weak. The Grapes of Wrath portrayed people, whose fathers and grandfathers had owned the land, being forced off it and into the unhappy status of migratory workers. This later edition of the dust bowl tragedy makes it appear that only the “worthless” sharecropper became a migrant. Folks who owned the land could pick themselves up, just like that, and start all over again in Oregon where prosperity waited with open arms.

Not only is the dust bowl tragedy twisted, but the interesting situation with which the story starts is twisted into artificial contours. An old German. doctor and his daughter, refugees from Hitlerism, come to live and work in this dust bowl town, only to become refugees once more – driven out by nature. Handled with respect for the likelihood of developments; there are possibilities here for gripping drama. However it all deteriorates into trimmings for a love story between the German girl and the young dust bowl farmer, whose romance is needlessly complicated by the reappearance of the girl’s old sweetheart.

The struggle of the young farmer to keep the towns folk from despairing is good stuff, and John Wayne is o.k. in that role. Sigrid Gurie, a newcomer to Hollywood, very naturally fits the role of the girl refugee, except when she tries to be kittenish. Charles Coburn plays the old German doctor, who loves doctoring, as if he enjoys acting such a part.

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Last updated: 16 July 2014