Alfred E. Green | Union Depot
| It's Tough to be Famous | The Golden Arrow
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Alfred E. Green
Alfred E. Green is a Hollywood film director.
Union Depot (1931) is not pretentious, but it is one of
the more entertaining films of the early 1930's.
The film shows vignettes depicting every ethnic group imaginable
trailing through the train station. These are usually interesting family
groups. Union Depot contains a little bit of everything.
This makes it full of the unexpected. The viewer does not have
genre expectations, and most of the plot twists seem fresh and
Camera Movement in the Opening
The opening shots are elaborate tracking shots from a crane. They
recall the strange crane shots that open Roland West's
The Bat Whispers (1931), although West's shots seem to
employ models, whereas Green's seem to be on a huge set. The opening
shot is the most elaborate: down the outside of the building,
then slowly down to the ground level, then through the door, and
then up again, inside the great central hall of the station. This
ambitious crane work anticipates Kenji Mizoguchi.
Green then shows a succession of less elaborate but still delightful
crane shots, tracking various characters through the station.
The hero Chick is blessed with a gift, the ability to uplift everyone
around him. He is fast talking, with a terrific line of patter.
He is "just" a bum, one struggling with the depths of
the Depression, but he winds up making things a lot better. Just
listening to him can cheer people up, and he does practical things
to help people too. The sad ending of the film suggests that he
will go back to his bum's life again. I have hopes that he will
get the opportunities he deserves. The deep moral of the film
is that people have far more gifts and talents than are often
utilized by society. And if we look inside people, we can find
Chick's comic repartee was very "in" and "with-it" in the early 1930's.
Sound films idolized characters who could deliver snappy patter.
Today Hollywood films suggest that heroes should be silent, but back then, both
men and woman were admired for verbal adroitness.
It's Tough to be Famous
It's Tough to be Famous (1932) teams Green with Fairbanks
again, although it is far less charming than Union Depot.
This soap opera looks at the down side of fame. Fairbanks plays
a naval hero who suffers from the Lindbergh treatment, becoming
one of the best known men in America and constantly in the glare
of the spotlight of a huge publicity machine. He is never happy
about any of this, wanting to be just a regular guy instead. Frankly,
I think he is dumb to be so morose about everything. He wails
about being awarded a cushy job being a good will ambassador for
an engineering firm, wanting "a real job" instead. He
could be a little grateful: after all, this is the Depression,
with a third of the country out of work. Why can't he enjoy making
$80, 000 a year for easy work, a princely sum at the time that
must have had every guy in the audience green with envy? Other
people in the movie tell him he needs to develop a sense of humor,
which he never does. In Union Depot, Chick was a guy who
faced real problems with humor. Scott here is a man who handles
phony problems with a frown.
There are other odd aspects of the film: aside from the sailors
in the opening, there are no young people in the film anywhere
except the hero and his wife. Being famous means he has to spend
his time at banquets with a lot of elderly stuffed shirts. People
in the Depression really hated such Society leaders, blaming them
for all the poverty in society. The hero never is shown involved
with anyone his own age.
Another paradox of this film: Fairbanks has a huge wardrobe here
of allegedly snazzy clothes: naval uniforms, fancy suits, and
evening clothes. So why does he seem less glamorous than in Union
Depot, where he played a bum? Perhaps because he never seems
to be enjoying any of them. Probably the negative aspects of his
character are seeping over to his appearance. Perhaps also because
they make him look so stiff and proper. He looks like a snooty
guy who is looking down his nose at his inferiors.
The Golden Arrow
A Cinderella in Pants
The Golden Arrow (1936) is a brief comedy directed by Alfred
E. Green. It has George Brent was a struggling writer, who gets
taken up and transformed by a wealthy social set. The script refers
to him as "Cinderella in pants". This reminds one of
two earlier Green films, Union Depot and It's Tough
to be Famous, which are also about poor men who suddenly find
themselves elevated in class. Green is a really obscure director
today, but he made at least three films with thematic similarities.
Frank Capra's Platinum Blonde (1931)
deals with a reporter of modest means who marries money, and who gets
transformed into a Society type. His detractors refer to him as
the "Cinderella Man". This film could have been an influence on the Green