Allan Dwan | Subjects | Structure and Story Telling | Multiple Levels: Staging | Visual Style | Rankings

Films: The Habit of Happiness | The Half-Breed | A Modern Musketeer | He Comes Up Smiling | Robin Hood | Zaza | Manhandled | Stage Struck | The Iron Mask | Tide of Empire | Man to Man | Chances | Black Sheep | Heidi | Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm | Suez | The Three Musketeers | The Gorilla | Frontier Marshal | Young People | Around the World | Up in Mabel's Room | Abroad with Two Yanks | Brewster's Millions | Calendar Girl | Northwest Outpost | Driftwood | The Inside Story | Sands of Iwo Jima | Belle Le Grand | Montana Belle | Woman They Almost Lynched | Sweethearts on Parade | Silver Lode | Cattle Queen of Montana | Escape to Burma | Pearl of the South Pacific | Tennessee's Partner | Slightly Scarlet | Hold Back the Night | Screen Directors Playhouse: It's Always Sunday | Screen Directors Playhouse: High Air | The River's Edge | Most Dangerous Man Alive

Classic Film and Television Home Page (with many articles on directors) | 1910's Articles

Allan Dwan

Allan Dwan was a Hollywood film director.

Critical writing on Allan Dwan:

Allan Dwan: Subjects

Some common characteristics found in more than one of Dwan's films include:

Minorities and Work: Good Guys and Bad Guys: Alcohol: Contests: The Natural World: Engineered and Constructed: Environments and Objects: Transportation: Planes and Pilots: Secret Regions: Locations where People Stay: Communication: Props and Imagery: Animals, and humans who are like animals: Families: Masculinity:

Allan Dwan: Structure and Story Telling

Story Structure: Genre: Sources: Documentary aspects: Unusual episodes:

Allan Dwan: Multiple Levels: Staging

Multiple Level: People in unusual motion in architecture:

Allan Dwan: Visual Style

Depth staging through architecture: Mirrors: Camera Movement: Vertical Camera Movement: Staging and Visual Style: Overhead Shots: Symmetry: Geometry: Color: Costumes:


Here are ratings for various films directed by Allan Dwan. Everything at least **1/2 is recommended. The ratings go from one to four stars. All of these films are ones I've seen.

Early short films, silent (1911-1914):

Feature films, silent (1915-1929): Feature films, sound (1930-1961): Screen Director's Playhouse (television series) (1956): I've tried to err on the side of caution, in these rankings. Likely some of the ratings should be higher.

The Habit of Happiness

The Habit of Happiness (1916) is the first of many films Dwan directed with Douglas Fairbanks.

The Half-Breed

The Half-Breed (1916) is one of several films Dwan directed with Douglas Fairbanks. It is a major film. It shows that anti-racist, pro-racial equality films were being made in the 1910's.

A Modern Musketeer

A Modern Musketeer (1917) is one of several films Dwan directed with Douglas Fairbanks.

I found A Modern Musketeer disappointing. It has a few good sequences, mainly in the first half of the picture. But much of the film is labored. And like some other early Fairbanks comedy-adventures such as Wild and Woolly (John Emerson, 1917), A Modern Musketeer suffers from racism, here in its treatment of Native Americans. There is also an unpleasant rationalization of women "wanting" violence. These early Fairbanks films are disappointing.

The upper class appearing villain, turns out to have a secret past as a criminal. The bad guy in Belle Le Grand will be concealing a similar criminal background - although not from the audience, as in A Modern Musketeer.

The Town

The cyclone sequence shows both good special effects, and good visual style. It anticipates the big storm in Suez. The hurricane in A Modern Musketeer shows much of the hero's home town.

The best sequence shows young Fairbanks' enthusiastic response, to the idea of getting out of his small town. Millions of people must have shared this goal. The sequence starts off in his living room, and winds up with him leaping all over yards and buildings in his town. It shows a delight absent in much of the rest of the film.

Sand Works and Water Works

A Modern Musketeer has early, simple examples of two kinds of engineering constructions that will play a role in later Dwan: sand works and water works.

Fairbanks attaches a flat car platform to the back of his auto, and has the villain and chauffeur ride there. This causes sand to blow in their faces.

During the Musketeer prologue, d'Artagnan tips a pot of water from the fireplace onto a villain. This is really simple, compared to the elaborate water works in later Dwan.


In the second half, Fairbanks is shown against a panorama of the Grand Canyon, in some spectacular shots. These reflect Dwan's technique, of long shots that embed characters within a background.

Architecture and Movement

The shots showing the character being raised and lowered by a rope into the Canyon are fascinating. The title cards explicitly compare this to an "elevator".

Like his other early Fairbanks movies, A Modern Musketeer shows Fairbanks moving all over architecture.

Fairbanks climbs up or down multi-story architecture:

Fairbanks frequently moves through windows, a favorite Dwan action: Fairbanks' car runs over fences when he leaves town. This anticipates a clever escape in Dwan's The Three Musketeers (1939), where the carriage moves over a fence.

There are two angled-overhead shots, looking down on maze-like architecture. Both have walls open at the top:

Camera Movement

There are three vertical pans:

Overhead Views

Dwan includes an overhead view, looking down from a balcony at the hotel. This is not straight down, unlike the overhead shots in many later Dwan pictures. Instead, it is on a sloping angle.

Similarly, a shot of the heroine, villain and guide riding on the canyon floor, is from an sloping overhead angle, not straight down.

He Comes Up Smiling


He Comes Up Smiling (1918) is one of several films Dwan directed with Douglas Fairbanks. Apparently, all that mainly survives from it is the opening sequence. The sequence has Fairbanks scrambling all over buildings in his town.

This opening is delightful. Like the previous Manhattan Madness (1916) and A Modern Musketeer (1917), it shows at an early date such Dwan subjects as:

All of this takes place in an urban environment, something that seems highly satisfying to me.

The town's street has a big "Vote for Dugan" banner over it. This will be multiplied into large scale bunting decorating towns in later Dwan films.

Visual Puns: Humans and Animals

The opening implicitly compares the hero's bank teller cage, with the cage containing the pet bird. Both seem imprisoned, albeit a bit gently.

We also see Fairbanks inside a huge birdcage himself: a bit of fantasy.

There is soon a second visual pun: Fairbanks plays on the cage grillwork, as if it were a harp.

Fairbanks has the bird climb up his fingers, as a form of exercise. This echoes all the scenes of humans climbing, in both Fairbanks and Dwan pictures. It is another example in Dwan of erasing the line between humans and animals. So are all the humans-in-cage metaphors in He Comes Up Smiling and other Dwan films.

Water Works

A boat in the water, itself has a region filled with water. This is perhaps a simple example of the more elaborate water works in other Dwan films.


He Comes Up Smiling has some of Dwan's symmetric compositions. These are not as purely symmetrical as in other Dwan films:


Fairbanks is an early example, of a Dwan hero wearing a bow tie with his suit. One suspects that this was fairly common in real life in 1918. Dwan is still using this look for John Payne in Slightly Scarlet (1956).

Fairbanks goes swimming shirtless and in his underwear. This is clearly an attempt to show off his physique. A swimming Fairbanks had even less on in Dwan's The Half-Breed (1916). Fairbanks's incredibly skimpy costume in The Half-Breed has a precedent. It recalls that of real-life boxer Jim Corbett. You can see Corbett in an early film of a boxing bout in the documentary Before the Nickelodeon: The Cinema of Edwin S. Porter (Charles Musser, 1982). A delightful fictional film about Corbett is Gentleman Jim (Raoul Walsh, 1942).


The canary is named Agamemnon. Agamemnon is a character in Greek mythology. The play Agamemnon (458 BC) by Aeschylus is both the greatest Greek drama, and the greatest play by anyone other than Shakespeare. Perhaps I'm stretching: but want to point out that Agamemnon has features that anticipate Allan Dwan films:

Robin Hood

Robin Hood (1922) is a lavish re-telling of the legend, with Douglas Fairbanks.

Dwan Subjects

Robin Hood contains several Dwan themes:

Water Works

Dwan has a fondness for large scale water works, such as the canal in Suez and The Poisoned Flume. There are several water works in Robin Hood: The priory garden might be the medieval equivalent of the front yards in other Dwan films.

The Lances

Many of the crowd scenes, show countless lances with pennants, sticking straight up into the air. I do not know how unusual or conventional this was in 1922. They form a major part of Dwan's compositions. Raoul Walsh and Fairbanks would make similar effects in The Thief of Bagdad (1924) two years later.

Taking Back the Town

The hero encourages the townspeople of Nottingham to revolt. They do, in a way that recalls the French Revolution. Like the French revolutionaries of next year's Scaramouche (Rex Ingram, 1923) they carry farm implements. These tools echo the vertical lances in the castle scenes. Movies about the French Revolution were enormously popular, circa 1920.

Masks and Helmets

The hero makes a striking entrance, with his helmet concealing his face. This is both comic, and weirdly bizarre.

Later, a helmeted knight of mysterious identity will enter the picture. This character seems more taken from Sir Walter Scott's novel Ivanhoe, than from conventional legends of Robin Hood.

Dwan and Fairbanks will soon make The Iron Mask.

Secret Passages

There is a secret passage from the Merry Men camp, through a tunnel to the woods and out a tree stump. This recalls the secret passages in the walls of the old dark house in The Gorilla.

In the comic books, Superboy will have a similar secret exit from his house, through a tunnel to the woods. He will also meet masked figures with concealed identities. One wonders if childhood viewings of Robin Hood influenced the comic book writers.

Multi-Story Interiors

Dwan likes large interiors, that show more than one level. The castle interiors are a prime example, with their high balcony, windows and staircases. These are featured in one of the film's best sequences, Robin's first raid on the castle.

Up and Down

Dwan's modern day films feature elevators, and mechanisms that help characters move up and down walls and cliffs. In Robin Hood, the hero moves down the huge drape in the castle. He also uses a sling to elevate the bad guy in his raid on the castle.

Robin Hood also includes memorable scenes of the hero climbing down the wall of the castle, and up the gate of Nottingham.


The hero stands on a cliff, where Marian has disappeared. We see a panorama behind him - although it is not as clearly photographed as in some of Dwan's other films.

Vertical Pans

Dwan includes what looks like vertical pans. There is a pan up to Robin Hood at the window, in his first raid on the castle. Later, we pan up from bad guys, to the Merry Men overhead in a tree.

Overhead Shots

The scenes on the battlement are frequently filmed from a high angle, so that we can see down to the ground. During the big fight, Dwan employs a high level, straight downward view.

Dwan also uses elevated angles, when it helps make the story clear. When the hero is pursued by the maidens with their scarves after the joust, Dwan's elevated angle makes each maid clear and distinct. Dwan similarly uses high angles, to show processions of the knights moving across the countryside.

Unusual Visuals

When the hero recovers, we see his point-of-view struggle have his vision come into focus.

The hero's memory of the heroine, materializes as a special effects image of her. In Montana Belle, the hero will recognize the heroine, when a brief flashback representing his memory of her from a previous scene, is cut into his current look at her.

Both of these techniques are not uncommon in film history. I do not know how unusual they were in 1922.


Zaza (1923) is the first film Dwan made with Gloria Swanson.


Zaza falls into three sections, of unequal length:
  1. The music hall or theater where heroine Zaza and her rival perform.
  2. Zaza's love affair with Bernard.
  3. The finale, starting at the Duke's chateau.
I thought the theater opening and the finale, were better than the long middle section about Zaza's affair.

The Swing

The scenes with the swing (in the opening theater section) are the high points of the film. The first musical number with the swings is remarkably beautiful. And the second one contains the remarkable camera movements, from the moving swing.

Rustic Design

The railing in the theater near Bernard's table is made out of rough-hewn, irregular pieces of wood. So are some of the posts that hold up the theater boxes. Later the summer house in front of the love cottage will also be framed out of such wood.

Such rough-hewn wood is very untypical is these contexts. Most theaters in the movies try to look "sophisticated". See the glamorous Art Deco nightclubs in Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers movies, for example. By contrast, the rough-hewn sticks make these places look more rustic, more homespun and less elegant. Their great merit is originality: I've never seen a theater in a movie look like this.

The theater boxes are also original, in that their sides are lattice-work, allowing us to see the lower parts of people seated inside.


It is hard to see why Bernard is so attractive to both Zaza and her rival. He is this dull, dreary, low energy guy, with no sense of romance or passion. The 46 year old actor H.B. Warner must be one of the least glamorous guys ever to play a Hollywood leading man. He seems like an odd choice for the love interest of 24 year old Gloria Swanson. However, one should not be ageist. Contemporary television is full of dynamic, exciting men in their 40's and 50's. They could have found such a man in 1923 Hollywood, too. Instead they found a leading man who always looks like he's coming down with the flu.

It is possible that Bernard's lack of zip, is designed to encourage audience skepticism about the Bernard-heroine affair. Such skepticism is warranted. Maybe if they had paired the heroine with a typical leading man, then audiences would not have felt any skepticism about what is going on.

The screen is completely emptied of any men younger or more attractive that Bernard. This is a standard Hollywood strategy, which prevents any better looking men offering competition to the hero.

By contrast Bernard seems believable as a diplomat. His clothes and manner have the refinement one would expect as part of a government diplomatic corps. This aspect of Bernard is convincing.

Bernard's pure white pants suggest upper class refinement. In that era, white clothes were a symbol of wealth. Only rich people could afford to keep white clothes clean. However, the white pants also suggest a bloodlessness and lack of romantic passion in Bernard.

SPOILERS. Even at the end, when Bernard briefly shows up in uniform, he still looks unusually unglamorized.


Manhandled (1924) is one of several films Dwan made with Gloria Swanson.


Manhandled recalls the short stories of O. Henry, with working class New Yorkers caught up with society types. A charming O. Henry adaptation made nearly a decade before, Young Romance (George Melford, 1915), has the characters working in a store, like Swanson in Manhandled.

However, Manhandled is less of a comedy than many O. Henry films. It has some comic set pieces, but much of it is a soap opera about Swanson wanting to party with the rich, which sets her up for the attentions of lecherous upper crust men. This aspect can be pretty grim.

Swanson impersonates a Russian countess. An earlier romantic comedy, The Delicious Little Devil (Robert Z. Leonard, 1919) has its working class New Yorker heroine claiming to be a famous European exotic dancer, and having much career success thereby. The Russian countess episodes in Manhandled give the film some much needed comedy relief. They are bubbly and fun.

Manhandled also recalls the marriage-divorce-and-infidelity comedy-dramas of Cecil B. DeMille. These films, some of which starred Gloria Swanson, were big hits in their day. In some ways, Manhandled looks like an imitation of them, although the heroine and hero of Manhandled are merely engaged, not married like most of DeMille's couples. In The Affairs of Anatol (DeMille, 1921), the husband hero keeps getting involved, fairly innocently, in compromising situations that link him to other women. Manhandled has something of a similar ambiguity. Although Swanson loves the hero, she keeps getting linked to other men. Sometimes this is fairly innocent on her part: she accepts jobs from two of these men, who wind up sexually harassing her. Other times, she is not so innocent, either accepting dates or flirting with them. She keeps pushing the edge, often ambiguously, of how far a woman can go to be involved with other men, and still keep up a relationship with a steady boyfriend she hopes to marry. It is a risque plot, and not really a pleasant one.

Links to The River's Edge

The situation of the characters at the film's start, anticipates that in The River's Edge: The hero is not the cause of the heroine's problems in Manhandled. Society itself decrees that working women like the heroine lead lives of hard work and discomfort. The hero is only responsible, in that he is not yet a financial success, and unable to provide something better for the heroine.

By contrast, in The River's Edge the hero might be seen as the source of the heroine's problems. He is choosing to have them live on his primitive ranch, at a time when better jobs and modern conveniences are available in big cities.

The Party and the Artists

The party at the sculptor's studio is another of Dwan's expansive party sequences. It includes those recurring Dwan types, young people in the arts: a sculptor, a novelist. These men are a bit older and more established than many of the young artists in Dwan, however. Title cards in which two artists discuss such aesthetic issues as non-representational art and form vs content, seem genuinely intellectual.

Artist characters were common in silent films. Partly this is because painters, sculptors and their studios were purely visual environments that came through great in a silent film, without sound. Partly it is because such artists had great intellectual and social prestige in this era.

False Accusations

Dwan's heroes are often falsely accused of crimes, and suffer social rejection for it. This is partially true of the heroine of Manhandled. Her boyfriend sees all the fancy clothes she has been lent in her role as the Russian countess, and jumps to the wrong conclusion that she is a kept woman. He then rejects her.

But some of his conclusions about the heroine are true. She does accept dinner invitations from well-to-do men behind his back. And the latest one has led to her being mauled by this roue. His perception of this is accurate. So the heroine is less falsely accused in Manhandled than many other Dwan characters.

Also, it is only the hero who rejects the heroine. In many Dwan films, the protagonist suffers massive social rejection and ostracism, or legal trouble.


The hero is an inventor. His device to save gas in cars is one of the engineered objects in Dwan. He works in a garage, a mechanical locale.

The famous subway opening anticipates the tunnel builders in High Air.

What looks like a time clock at the store, is a complex machine.

Financial Processes

The hero's attempt to sell his invention is perhaps one of Dwan's financial processes. However, it is fairly simply told compared to the financial systems explored in other Dwan films.

One suspects Dwan likes the frenzied activity in the store and subway. At the very least, these people are out living active lives and spending money. They contrast with the frightening quiet and lack of economic activity in the depressed town in The Inside Story.

The heroine's attempts to get the exact change needed for the subway, are perhaps a very simple financial process.

Water Works

Water works are far less elaborate in Manhandled than in some other Dwan films. Still, there are two scenes in which we see a woman washing dishes in her apartment.

The hero uses a sink at his garage.

The heroine gets her legs splattered by a car driving through a puddle, at the start. This anticipates the heroine sweeping dust on bad guy's shoes in Montana Belle.

Up and Down

The climax of the comic subway scene has petite Swanson inadvertently lifted off the floor by two men standing beside her, who do not realize what they are doing. Dwan characters are often suspended in swings or in the air.

The sculptor's apartment building has one of Dwan's elevators, although its operation is not much shown.

Overhead Shots

Dwan uses overhead camera angles, to show the heroine trapped in ferocious New York City crowds: first when she tries to leave the subway car, later in the bargain basement store where she works.

Staging Through Windows and Doors

When the heroine is splashed with water on the street, she is in front of large windows. One can vaguely see shapes inside. They play no role in the plot.

In the subway, we frequently see through the subway doors to the platform. Sometimes this is an open doorway. Sometimes we see through the closed glass doors of the car.

The subway scene shows the heroine's difficulties in both entering the subway car's door, and leaving it. Such ideas are perhaps linked to Dwan's long-term stylistic interest in shooting through doors.

The hero's garage has a large doorway, through which we can see the street. No plot action occurs in the street, but we can see traffic.

Later, the heroine uses a phone booth at the store. Through the glass window of the door, we get a huge "depth view" of the store.

The couple look at some of their neighbors. Each neighbor is framed through their apartment window. The fact that the hero and heroine have rooms in the same urban building, and can look out to see other people through windows across the way, both anticipate Calendar Girl. Dwan likes multi-unit dwellings where more than one character lives. The sculptor and Frank Morgan also live in the same apartment building, one more upscale than the working class hero and heroine's.

We get our first glimpse of the Detroit parts company, through a door that opens.

Smelling Food

Early on, the hero smells food in the apartment house - something he likes. There is a cut to a shot of the food on a stove, apparently in someone's apartment. This is an unusually told sequence, with something the hero can't see (the food), suggesting what he is smelling. The scene also is an example of the enjoyment of food in Dwan.

Favorite Performers

Frank Morgan will later be famous in the title role of The Wizard of Oz, and as the shop owner in The Shop Around the Corner. Even at this early date, he is playing a man who is genial, in charge, but not really trustworthy and given to fraudulent schemes, in an unmalicious way. His comic characters are not really intellectually deep, but they are energetic and inventive. They are also a bit of a blowhard. It is a complex persona with plenty of good-natured appeal.

Young Ian Keith, who plays the sculptor, also appears in Dwan's next film Her Love Story (1924), where he is another of Dwan's men in big boots. Twenty years later he will play the delightful ham Shakespeare actor Vitamin Flintheart in Dick Tracy vs. Cueball (Gordon Douglas, 1946).

Stage Struck

Stage Struck (1925) is one of several films Dwan made with Gloria Swanson. It is a romantic comedy. As in Dwan's previous Swanson vehicle Manhandled, Swanson once again plays a working woman, this time a waitress. Both are "ordinary" people, just getting by. Working women run through Dwan, and he usually treats them sympathetically.

With its waitress heroine and cook hero, and an opening banquet scene, Stage Struck is another Dwan work that celebrates the enjoyment of food.

The Day Dream

Stage Struck opens with Swanson's day dreams of stardom as a stage actress. This color sequence is delightful. It is highly exaggerated of course, but that is what makes it fun. It also conveys archetypal, well-imagined images of stage success. Dwan films often have episodes of non-standard storytelling: dreams, bursts of fantasy, storybook images coming to life. They are usually highlights of the films in which they appear.

Swanson is seen in all sorts of costumes. These include the elaborate hats and headgear that run through Dwan films: lace mantilla, tiara, silver grape leaves. (Later we will see the hero's chef's hat, and the wheat cake the heroine flips on her head.)

Hero Lawrence Gray also gets an outfit popular in Dwan: a dressy uniform, in this case a European style comic opera uniform, all in white in keeping with the light celebratory tone. This is essentially a hussar's uniform.

The architecture includes a favorite Dwan setting, a theater. The theater has boxes, and is another Dwan interior with more than one story. The flowers lavished on the heroine are examples of the huge gifts of flowers in Dwan.

The banquet is one of the bilaterally symmetric scenes in Dwan. It is also one of Dwan's lavish, fun-filled parties.

Water Works

The hero pours batter from a pitcher to make wheat cakes. This pitcher is a small kind of "water works". It is used by the skilled hero in his work.

Depth Staging Through Architecture

When the hero cooks wheat cakes at the restaurant, he is near a window through which women watch him.

Favorite Performers

Lawrence Gray plays the short-order cook who is the object of Swanson's unrequited affections. Mainly, Lawrence Gray was a really handsome man - the answer to the maiden's prayer. He was also "fresh", breezy, and energetic, a type that was big for young men in the 1920's. This sort of high energy, positive thinker, loaded with charm, still seems like a not-bad role model for men, even if the characters he played also often had flaws or were superficial.

Gray as a playboy was the best thing about The Patsy (King Vidor, 1928), an otherwise grim alleged "comedy" about a young woman treated badly by her miserable family. Lawrence Gray had a pleasant singing voice, and he does a delightful job introducing the Rogers & Hart standard "With a Song in My Heart" in the early talkie musical Spring Is Here (John Francis Dillon, 1930).

The Iron Mask

The Iron Mask (1929) is a silent film swashbuckler that reunites Dwan with star Douglas Fairbanks.


The Iron Mask has story problems. The hero tends to react to what bad guys do; he does not initiate actions or have personal goals. In the first half he mainly tries to rescue the heroine from bad guys; in the second half he tries to save the king from the villains. These two rescues hardly form a "story" or "plot" in the traditional sense. Such a fairly passive hero (and heroine) will recur in Dwan's next film Tide of Empire.

The heroine and woman villain Milady from the first half seem taken from the original novel The Three Musketeers. These characters and their plot have been modified a bit, and stuffed into the plot of "the man in the iron mask", where they originally had no role.

The scenes near the end, where the three musketeers hold off bad guys so that d'Artagnan can move ahead on the road, also derive from an episode earlier in the Musketeer saga than the "iron mask" story.

The Broken Coin

The coin is broken into two parts. D'Artagnan's part is roughly heart shaped. It recalls the heart shape imagery in other Dwan films, which usually signifies romance. However, the coin's shape in The Iron Mask is not explicitly heart-shaped, unlike the romantic heart symbols in other Dwan.

The King's message includes a picture of his part of the coin, along with text. This recalls the signs in other Dwan films, which sometimes include a picture as well as words.

Masks that Cover the Head

Dwan films like masks, including those that completely cover the head. The Iron Mask of the title is an example.

There is an echo of this mask, early in the film. A woman kindly drops a basket over the head of Fairbanks and his girlfriend, so they can have privacy while kissing. The basket forms an odd sort of mask, completely covering both of their heads. It looks unusual: one rarely sees anything like this in other films.


An interesting shot occurs early in the film: the King walks from the outdoors in a crowded street, through a large open doorway, inside to a palace. The camera proceeds before him as he walks from outdoors to inside. Dwan films like to look through doorways - but this is a complete transition from outdoors to indoors. The camera moving in front of him, recalls the camera movements down streets in other Dwan films.

Two Exteriors

Two large scale outdoor sets show Paris of the era.

One might be called the "town square". It has many high windows and balconies on the buildings. D'Artagnan's girlfriend appears at one of these windows, and talks to d'Artagnan in the street below. This is a common Dwan staging. Later, the hero drops from this window to the street, one of many Dwan characters who scale buildings.

The other region is outside the palace, and might be called the "palace square". It has a huge high balcony that runs around the square, and equally large staircases leading up to it. This is used for appearances of royalty, crowds gathered to await the royal birth, and other public events.

Water Works

There are some simple, fairly conventional structures in the exteriors, that serve as Dwan water works:

Links to High Air

Towards the end, the heroes go through a tunnel to the king's prison. This tunnel sequence anticipates Dwan's much later High Air (1956), which is a modern-day film about men building a tunnel under the Hudson River. Bother of these works are not just "tunnel films", but tunneling films. They show heroes trying to dig and chip their way through a wall of rock, at the end of the tunnel. Such active work reminds us that Dwan is an engineer, and his films have an engineering orientation.

SPOILER. Both tunnel films end with similar acts of self-sacrifice.

Vertical Camera Movement

The camera pans straight down from the woman at the window who drops the basket, to show Fairbanks and his girlfriend below. Dwan likes vertical camera movements. They often show someone climbing up or down; this one does not.

Fairbanks climbs a tree outside the convent. For a short distance, the camera climbs with him. Then Dwan cuts to a fixed (non-moving) long shot, which shows the climb and tree as a whole. The vertical camera movement might be one of the pans Dwan often used for such vertical shots: but it looks more as if the camera is actually rising, perhaps on some sort of crane or elevator.

Tide of Empire

Tide of Empire (1929) is a silent film made by Dwan, at the very end of the silent era. It has a soundtrack with music and sound effects, but otherwise is a pure silent movie.

Two Groups in Conflict

Tide of Empire is a Western of sorts, with the heroine's family being Spanish aristocrats in Old California, and the hero being one of the Americans flooding into California after gold is discovered in 1848. Tide of Empire shows these two worlds in collision. We get a detailed view of both the Gold Rush, and the traditional Hispanic way of life in Old California. Both are treated fairly sympathetically. For a film made so long ago, the Hispanic characters are treated with respect and dignity.

Dwan liked films about two conflicting government parties or groups. The traditional Hispanics and the Gold Rush newcomers are perhaps related to this approach. However, neither is actually a government party, and the two are only occasionally in conflict. So this is not a pure example of this Dwan paradigm.

Structural Problems

Tide of Empire mainly lacks appeal to me, although it improves as it goes along. One problem is a paucity of plot.

Also, the hero and heroine seem passive, goalless and disconnected from the story. Only at the end, when the hero tries to save the heroine's brother, is the hero purposively involved in working towards some goal.

False Accusation

The heroine's brother is falsely accused of being an outlaw: he was actually forced to join the gang. Such falsely accused people often become ostracized in Dwan; the local men try to lynch him, the Western equivalent.

The Gold Rush: Water Works and Finance

The Gold Rush combines two favorite Dwan subjects. It starts at Sutter's mill, and gold is mainly sought at streams. These are examples of Dwan's beloved water works.

The Gold Rush also shows Dwan's interest in financial processes. The Gold Rush is a major chapter in US history, one that is entirely driven by money. We see the initial discovery, and later shovels and panning equipment entirely selling out in California towns. We see whole towns on the move, emptied of people who've left to hunt for gold.

The assigning of property through deeds is another financial process, that occurs later in the movie.

Tide of Empire shows the founding of the Wells Fargo company. We see the initial transport of gold by them from California. The film treats this as the financial unification of the United States: it enables gold to be transferred between California and the rest of the country, making a unified economy possible. It is typical of Dwan to take an interest in such financial perspectives.

We also see the buying of gold, apparently by the Wells Fargo firm: this is a historically accurate part of their real early business in California.


Dwan loves parties. The traditional Spanish fiesta is a an outdoor party staged on a lavish scale.

Cages for Men

An image that runs through Dwan is cages containing men. It is an odd image, but it goes back at least to Dwan's Fairbanks films in the 1910's. It pops up with startling directness in Tide of Empire. A jailer wants to join the Gold Rush, but feels he has to stay bend and guard his prisoners. The hero blithely suggests a solution: build a mobile, wheeled cage, and take his prisoners along to the Rush!

This leads to a series of comedy episodes. Comedy scenes in jails with a folksy jailer and none-too-threatening mild-mannered prisoners return in Driftwood.


The long shot overview of the frog race is nearly symmetrical: a kind of composition Dwan likes.


The hero stands by a large keg at the fiesta. It forms a typical Dwan image: a huge vertical circle.

Camera Movement

An elaborate track (or is it a pan?) follows the hero when he first enters the saloon. This is the first we viewers have seen the saloon interior. Dwan sometimes shows a new location by such a camera moving through it. Later, another moving shot follows the hero as he moves swiftly towards and up the staircase in the saloon. Still later, when the hero carries the brother into the saloon, a pair of shots follow the hero into the saloon and up the stairs, along a similar path.

There seems to be a small vertical pan, showing the crowd in the saloon. Unlike in much of Dwan, this is not following a climbing character. It moves from the crooks in the foreground, panning back and up to show the crowd behind them, who are calling for their hanging.

A memorable shot shows a man following a trail of bloodstains in the hall. We see his boots, as the camera looks down to the floor and blood marks. One wonders if this was inspired by the camera following the footprints in Sunrise (Murnau, 1927).


Forty years later, Dwan still remembered experimenting with an early zoom lens, telling Peter Bogdanovich about it. I saw one shot that looked like a zoom: one of the nocturnal, panoramic cityscapes gets a slow zoom-out. This shot shows the arrival of the Wells Fargo stagecoach to town. The zooming-out shows more and more of the part of town closest to the viewer: the foreground, in other words. This is as the stagecoach also drives towards the foreground.

A little later, there is a second zoom-out, very similar to this first one. The second zoom-out shows the gang of crooks riding into town, rather than the Wells Fargo stage coming in. This second shot shows a similar landscape in a similar way to the first zoom-out.

Overhead Shots

The heroine has a balcony, overlooking a huge panorama of the street. This gives rise to level shots that include this panorama. There are also similar high-level shots of the town, which do not include the balcony.

Later, we see a true straight-down shot of some men in the street. This might or might not be from the heroine's POV on the balcony. This is just after the Wells Fargo stage shows up in town. Dwan has celebrated their arrival first with a zoom-out, then with this overhead shot. He is doing everything he can to mark this scene with unusual shots.

A spectacular shot of the riders near the end, is from a fairly tight overhead view.


The heroine wears an elaborate lace headdress to the fiesta. She takes it off before dancing. This is an example of elaborate head gear in Dwan. While none of the men are in anything this spectacular, they all wear lively looking cowboy or Hispanic hats.

The Western hero is another Dwan man in big boots.

Man to Man

Man to Man (1930) is about a small-town young man who is ashamed of his ex-convict father. Man to Man suffers from a lack of story and incident. Mainly, it is an hour or so of the young hero suffering shame and social embarrassment - often fairly unnecessarily. Peter Bogdanovich condemned the film, describing it as "static": which seems fair. However, Man to Man contains a number of Dwan's favorite subjects and staging techniques, which help give it interest.

Man to Man contains Dwan subjects:

Financial Processes

The hero, heroine and other characters work in the local bank. In the film's second half, the bank teller hero suddenly becomes short in his accounts. The film slowly demonstrates all the consequences of this, showing various people's detailed investigations. Man to Man becomes an in-depth look at a financial process.

Financial processes are a favorite subject for Dwan. The one in Man to Man is a bit different from the processes in many other Dwan films, however. Often, Dwan will show how some process affects society and the public: for instance, the circulation of money in The Inside Story. By contrast, the teller's shortage in Man to Man affects only the people at the bank, not society as a whole.

Dwan like images of men in cages, like animals. The hero's bank teller area is a giant cage. Dwan had previously shown Douglas Fairbanks as a bank teller in a cage in He Comes Up Smiling. The teller area in Man to Man is more emphatically cage-like than many banks in other directors' films.

A Working Woman

The heroine works as a secretary at the local bank. She is one of Dwan's sympathetic working women. She often seems more intelligent and sensible than the hero, in coping with the events of the story.

The heroine is loyal to the hero. She also urges him to stand up for his father, and to defy public opinion.

She is implicitly contrasted with the hero's first girlfriend at college. This woman likes the hero when he is a Big Man on Campus. But she is immediately done with him, as soon as the troubles in his family background are revealed. The two women anticipate a bit the hero's two girlfriends in Suez.:

Sports Contests

Sports contests and public competitions are a favorite Dwan subject. Man to Man opens with an entertaining college "high hurdle" track meet. It is hard to tell if this is stock footage, with close-up shots of the hero cut in, or whether the whole track meet was staged for the film.

An odd aspect: the hero's shirt has the letter K, with three numbers below it. This is an unusual marking on an athletic outfit. The hero holds his arm over it at one point, making it hard to see, and otherwise is often shot from the side, concealing the lettering.

Later, there is a far more informal contest at the town party, with the hero and another man throwing stones at a hanging can. This picnic is the sort of old-fashioned civic celebration, that anticipates a bit the setting for the tug-o-war in Calendar Girl.

Both contests offer pleasantly upbeat moments, which contrast with the grim tone of much of Man to Man.

In a few Dwan films such as Suez, a hero loses a sporting contest, when he is distracted by the presence of his girlfriend. Man to Man is just the opposite. At both contests, a heroine is present, and the hero notices her. But she seems to be successfully encouraging him on to victory, rather than serving as some kind of distraction.

Construction, Sand and Engineering

Dwan films often have engineering and construction aspects. However, these are less prominent in Man to Man. A few aspects can be read as construction: SPOILER. The device used in the thefts is one of Dwan's engineered objects. However, it is "lower tech" than some of the more sophisticated hight tech objects in other Dwan films.

Multi-Story Sets

Dwan likes multi-story sets, but they are not prominent in Man to Man. And there are no Douglas Fairbanks style scenes of the hero climbing such sets.

Two indoors areas feature staircases with upper landings: the fraternity house, and later, the uncle's house. Dwan duly has scenes in which his hero ascends these stairs. The big revelation about his father is staged on the fraternity house staircase.

There are also porch steps at the heroine's house.


Dwan films often show the enjoyment of food. Man to Man is a bit the opposite: we see stress preventing the hero from being able to eat.


Man to Man is set in a small town in Kentucky. There is a "Southern atmosphere". A big part of this are the numerous black characters who work in the town.

This portrait has both limitations and strengths. A negative: the way the black people are subservient to the whites. And the way they always seem happy in all these social arrangements.

On the positive side, the black characters are depicted without the stereotypes so often associated with Hollywood films of the era. The African-American characters are honest, hard working, and good at their jobs. They speak with an accent, but they speak coherent, logical English. They understand the world around them logically. They make a huge contrast with the racist stereotypes played in other films by Stepin Fetchit, a man depicted as stupid and lazy. Fetchit constantly mumbled incoherently, implying he was too stupid to speak clearly. By contrast, the blacks in Man to Man talk intelligibly.

When the father returns to town, a long take shows him being welcomed by many men, who shake his hand in turn. Most of these men are white. But one of them is the film's main black character Bildad. This puts the black man on a position of social equality with the white characters in the film. It is only temporary, unfortunately: later scenes will have him in subordinate roles.

The subservience to whites is certainly nothing to be pleased with, and Man to Man can hardly be cited as any sort of ideal treatment of race. Still, the avoidance of negative stereotypes should be noted and commended.

Unusual Filming

Some Dwan films have scenes using unusual or off-trail filmmaking or staging. There are two notable scenes in Man to Man:

Camera Movement

Dwan likes moving camera shots in people's front lawns or gardens. Man to Man introduces the heroine's house, by a moving camera shot following the hero and heroine down the sidewalk in front of her front garden.

Later scenes are staged on the heroine's front porch.

Some camera movements are shot alongside the pond, where the town holds the party. This area "in front of the pond" is not someone's front yard. But it has a bit of the same feel, a vegetation-filled area in front of a large barrier (such as a house for a pond) through which the characters move.

Dwan likes camera movements showing people walking down streets. Several of these are prominent in Man to Man. The first walk to the bank is an example.

A complexly staged movement: the father at the train station. People keep entering the frame to shake his hand.

The father's first drive through the town is also a good camera movement.

Staging Through Architecture

In the film's second half, one sees out through windows and glass doors of the bank and barbershop, to the street outside. The bank and barber's are across the street from each other.

A few shots represent looking down from upstairs windows:

In neither case, do we see the window framing this overhead view.

The shot from the train window also avoids the window frame. First we see shots actually through the train window. Then a cut takes us to a moving camera shot without the train window as frame - and this second shot shows the couple parked in the car.

In the previous scene, we had seen the train in back of the car. The train and car form a pair seen from each others Point of View, just as the bank and barbershop will be later in the film.

A brief scene in the bank vault, has a deep view through the vault door of the bank.


Costume designer Earl Luick shows his flair for men's clothes. Luick has the hero and other young men in an endless series of good suits. He also provides the hero and his fraternity brothers with an idealized array of sweaters and well-creased trousers, that is a definitive look at college sportswear. This is an idealized image of what nice young pretty boys wore in 1930. Even the POV shot of the town's young men seeing the father at the train station, shows the young men fairly dressed up, although not in such good suits as the hero.

The suits and sweaters, however, do not seem directly related to Dwan traditions.

The father (Grant Williams) is one of many Dwan characters in bow ties.


Chances (1931) falls into two parts: the early scenes at home in Britain, and later World War I scenes in France.


The British scenes at the beginning are especially good. They point out the importance of parties as settings for Dwan. This film opens first with a social evening in a British pub, then a country weekend, climaxing in a huge charity ball. The soldier protagonists have three days leave... Lots of Dwan films put his characters in party-like atmosphere. Black Sheep has them all on a trans-Atlantic cruise, Suez opens with Parisian fetes and social encounters, Abroad with Two Yanks has the men on shore leave, Up in Mabel's Room mainly takes place at a party, lot of the late Westerns take place in saloons, dance halls, etc. Dwan even did a musical called Hollywood Party. Dwan was a well known host, too. A party he gave in the 1920's was the real life model of the most famous get together in American Literature, the party in F. Scott Fitzgerald's novella The Great Gatsby.

Such parties are cheerful and festive - yet people get to have romantic encounters, and thrash out serious life issues. The parties can involve both family relationships, and romantic encounters. Family: there are two brothers in Chances, a father and son in Black Sheep. Triangles: both brothers fall in love with the same woman in Chances; the hero is chewed up in the duel between his wife and old girlfriend in Up in Mabel's Room, the hero is involved with two sisters in Slightly Scarlet.

These parties are more refined than Raoul Walsh's boisterous saloons. Dwan's characters do not always have money - but they tend to have a background of middle class refinement. The parties are also much warmer and friendlier than Alfred Hitchcock's duels over frighteningly stiff upper class restaurant meals (the cocktails in the Oak Room where Cary Grant is kidnapped at the start of North By Northwest, the early meal in Vertigo, the buffet supper in Rope, which takes place at home, but which has a similar feel).


Dwan's characters often commute from continent to continent. In Chances, the heroine is just back from Paris, where she has been studying art. In The Gorilla, the heroine is also just back from abroad; Black Sheep takes place on an ocean liner.

Water Works

On the train, the heroes reminisce about their boyhood, and the way they built an imitation of the Suez Canal across their mother's lawn. This is both an example of the many water works in Dwan, and an anticipation of his film Suez.

Links to The River's Edge

The three main characters are in a romantic triangle, like the leads of The River's Edge to come.

The pub, full of noisy, happy but well-behaved people, anticipates the restaurant early in The River's Edge.


The parties allow Dwan's characters to be dressed up to the max. This includes two Dwan favorites: dressy uniforms, and white tie and tails. The fancy uniforms at the party are evening wear: combinations of tuxedoes and uniforms.

The huge boots worn by his heroes in Chances anticipates Tyrone Power's big boots in Suez. The two brothers seem to interlock with each other, while wearing these boots on the train.

The spectacular costumes in Chances are by Earl Luick, who also did Douglas Fairbanks' costumes in Little Caesar (1930) and Union Depot (Alfred E. Green, 1931). Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. never looked so good either before or after, as he did in these three films. Luick seems to know how to make him look like a real leading man. The long shots favored by Dwan, which display his actors' whole bodies, serve to make these uniforms visible at all times.

The working class news vendor at the start, is another Dwan character in a bow tie.

Camera Style

Throughout the opening scenes in Britain, Dwan emphasizes long shots. He tries to keep all the actors involved in a scene on-screen at once, viewed as a whole. If the drama narrows down to two people, Dwan will move closer, until just those two are visible. Even in this case, Dwan prefers to frame them so their whole bodies are visible. Or Dwan can move to a medium shot, showing most, but not all of the legs, of his two characters. Dwan has little interest in cutting back and forth between close-ups of his characters.

Quite a few scenes at home are staged, so that we can see through the doorway of one room, into another. This is true both when just a few characters are visible, in the early shots at home - and when big crowds show up in the home for the party.

Camera Movement

Dwan includes an elaborate tracking shot, through the garden, following Fairbanks and the heroine. A fence of vertical bars is in front of them, giving a visual grid or mask to the shot. Such foreground material in a lateral track is a trademark of both Sternberg and Ophuls. It is quite rare in Dwan's film, showing up in just this one scene. The grillwork perhaps suggests the humans in cages that run through Dwan's films.

A later scene in the garden, during the party, has the couple followed by a moving camera. But both the couple and the camera stop moving quickly. The camera executes a complex flourish, then stops.

What might be a pan, follows the hero as he briefly walks down a London street, in the opening.


The elaborate wooden bar and booth at the pub, anticipate the elaborate wooden staircase and its banisters in The Gorilla.

The outside of the bar is curved. The rest of the pub is full of circular features: plates on a sideboard, a keg, circular tables.

The subway entrance in the previous scene, is also rounded.

Black Sheep

Black Sheep (1935) one of Allan Dwan's most enjoyable works. Black Sheep is a comedy with light-hearted crime elements. It takes place in "sophisticated settings": a cruise ship.

It is the first of six films Dwan did with Claire Trevor. Trevor often played "bad girls" with hearts of gold, which is the foundation of her character in Black Sheep.

Leading man Edmund Lowe was around 45 when Black Sheep was made. Lowe had a dry, delightful wit. He often played "sophisticates", as he does in Black Sheep. In the 1930's, Hollywood regularly made movies with middle-aged roués in the lead: Lowe, Warren William, Adolphe Menjou. These were men who were quite convincing as sophisticated men of the world.

A Good Guy like a Rogue - and Links to Maverick

The hero of Black Sheep is a Good Guy, but one who behaves much like the clever Rogues and con-men of much mystery fiction. This is an appealing and ingenious combination.

Twenty years later, the hero of the TV series Maverick will be a similar "Good Guy with the personality of a Rogue".

Lowe's protagonist in Black Sheep anticipates the hero of Maverick:

Edmund Lowe will play the villain in the pilot episode of the TV series Maverick. This pilot episode is War of the Silver Kings (Budd Boetticher, 1957).

The Decks

The ship mainly consists of four kinds of spaces: salons, cabins, corridors and decks.

The decks seem to play a similar role in Black Sheep as the front yards do in other Dwan films. The decks are public, outdoor spaces in front of the interior salons, just as yards are outdoor areas in front of people's houses. Dwan often has his characters and camera moving in complex ways along the decks, just as front yards are often the locale of camera movement in other Dwan.

The finale at the Customs stands in front of the docked ship also have a "front yard" feel. The region even has some picket fences, just like a yard might. There are somewhat similar fences on the dock area in Abroad with Two Yanks.

Class and Architecture

Social class is a key theme in Black Sheep. It is built into the architecture of the ship. First class passengers live on the upper level, second class passengers on the lower one. Everything is startlingly more lavish on the upper level: salons, cabins, corridors. It emphasizes how much more wealth the upper classes have, and how better they are treated.

Going up and down stairs takes one between levels - and between social classes. Many Dwan works are organized around multiple level interiors. In Black Sheep, the different levels directly express social class. This metaphor is fascinating - but it is not generally found in other Dwan works, as far as I can tell.

In many Dwan films, the multiple levels are all part of one big set. In Calendar Girl, Dwan can follow his characters as they move up the stairs from one floor to another. The sets of Black Sheep do not allow this, perhaps unfortunately. Instead, we see characters going up the stairs on the lower deck. Then there is a cut, and they arrive on the different sets of the upper deck. It is OK, but not as dramatic as the linked, multi-story sets of Calendar Girl.

The ship has barriers between levels, with signs telling people not to cross. This is a vivid visual metaphor for class distinctions. The ship's house detective enforces these barriers. He makes a metaphor for the real life government and social obstacles to movement between classes.

The ship, like the rooming house in Calendar Girl and many other Dwan locations, is a "multiple-unit dwelling where many people live."

The Opening Montage on Ship

Black Sheep opens with scenes of life about a luxury liner. One suspects that these scenes are mainly stock footage, taken from some other film with a shipboard setting. They look more lavish than the later scenes of Black Sheep, both in terms of their sets, and their large crowds. None of the characters in Black Sheep appear in this opening montage of ship scenes, which also suggests that they might be from some other movie.

There are brief shots, of the man singing the song used an accompaniment to the ship scenes. One suspects that this footage of the singer was actually made by Dwan, as part of Black Sheep.

Styles of Characterization

Some Dwan films such as The Gorilla employ an extreme mix of characterization styles, ranging from performers who act "normal" to wild comic characterizations. The normal characters never notice that the people around them are zanies. Instead, the "normal" characters relentlessly act normal, using traditional "realistic" acting styles, in the midst of all the craziness around them.

Black Sheep has nothing this extreme. But the young man (Tom Brown) does behave distinctly differently from much of the rest of the characters. The other characters are mainly older, cynical, and predatory in their behavior, always trying to victimize or cheat someone. By contrast, the young man is idealistic, painfully sincere, and emotionally sensitive. He offers a relentless contrast in attitude to the other characters: just like the "normal" characters do in a Dwan comedy.

The young man resembles the "normal" characters in another way: he never notices anything about the other characters in the film swirling around him. No matter how cynical or biting or predatory these characters are in Black Sheep, the young man never becomes cynical or sarcastic himself.

The hero (Edmund Lowe) and heroine (Claire Trevor) also have slightly distinct acting styles from the other characters in the movie. Both hero and heroine offer wry comments on the action, and clever one-liners. Their barrage of humorous commentary makes them different from the "serious" characters around them.

Dwan Subjects

SPOILERS. Black Sheep includes many favorite Allan Dwan subjects: There are also favorite Dwan objects:


Dwan likes characters who get dressed up in formal wear. The hero's tuxedo and Tom Brown's white tie and tails are examples of this. In Black Sheep, it is mainly upper class characters like Tom Brown, the drunk and other first class passengers who are in white tie and tails, the dressiest outfit that men can wear. By contrast, the lower class hero is restricted to a tuxedo. He looks great in it, but not as well-to-do as the upper class men around him.


Heidi (1937) is the first of three films Dwan did with Shirley Temple.

Fathers and Sons

Although we don't see the son, the relationship between the Grandfather and his son is a much talked about bart of the film's backstory. Father-son relationships are important in Dwan. In Heidi, the Grandfather rejected his son. This anticipates Sands of Iwo Jima, where John Agar has experienced much rejection from his father.

It is clear that the Grandfather now repents of what he did. There is a moving scene where he reads the parable of the Prodigal Son from the Bible. It is hard not to wonder if this Bible story embodies a key aspect of the father-son relationships in Dwan.

A Hermit: Not Quite an Outcast

The Grandfather and the town have deeply rejected each other. This is close to, but not quite the same as, the Dwan theme of "false accusations make someone a social outcast". The roots of the trouble are in fact truthful: The Grandfather did indeed disown his son, leading to him being rejected by the villagers in turn. So this is not a false accusation. However, it has lead to a village view of the Grandfather being just plain rotten - which is false.

Similarly, the Grandfather is partly a self-willed hermit, rather than a true outcast. He has a choice, whereas outcasts don't.

I found it interesting that the Grandfather wants no part of the village school or church. However, this difference is soon papered over. It is not developed, or given a political dimension, the way many conflicts over government in Dwan are.

The Grandfather is one of several Dwan characters dissatisfied with small town life. Instead of running away to a big city or the Wild West, though, he becomes a hermit in the mountains. Heidi is also typical of much Dwan, in that the characters travel long distances (from the Alps to Frankfurt).

Late in Heidi, the Grandfather is falsely accused of stealing Shirley. He doesn't become a social outcast, but he is persecuted by the police, who refuse to believe him because he is poor.

Rich and Poor and the Police

The Grandfather is treated as an inferior human being by the police and government officials, because he is poor. He only gets a better treatment when Shirley mentions the name of a local rich man. Then the whole police force and local government suddenly springs to attention.

This is clearly a social commentary. It is pretty striking and powerful.

It perhaps reflects Dwan's interest in economic processes. It also might reflect the massive debate over Social Security, the government safety net program enacted in 1935, and which collected its first taxes in 1937. This was the first attempt in the USA to help older poor people, and still the key to drastically improved lives for older Americans today.

Phallic Symbols

The Grandfather is shown twice with phallic symbols:

Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple's ability to solve everyone's problems seems a bit hard to take, or at least believe. It is credible that she could help the Grandfather: they have a long term relationship. But she plays matchmaker for the pastor after meeting him for just a few minutes! If they had made a film about the Titanic with Shirley as a passenger, she would have prevented the ship from sinking, and the boat would have sailed successfully into New York harbor.

On the other hand, Shirley's determination seems admirable. The film's subtext - that "bravery will help people cope successfully with the Depression" - must have been encouraging in those tough times. Also, Shirley Temple seems a much better role model for young people than many characters in post-1967 films. Modern US cinema often shows young people obsessed with conformity, being hip and with it, and fitting in, as well as partying as the greatest good. There is nothing conformist at all about Shirley. She rejects any interest in good clothes, in favor of her Grandfather and helping the little girl.

Shirley helps the little girl to learn to walk. She is one of several Dwan characters who physically train others. She is more working class than the little girl she teaches: also a common Dwan characterization.

Multi-Story Sets

Both the Grandfather's house and the church are that Dwan favorite, interiors with more than one level.

A crane shot moves straight down from the hay loft to the ground floor. This relates to the vertical pans found in other Dwan films.

The church set reminds one of the tennis court in Suez. Both are rectangular enclosures, with people on upper balconies looking down on the protagonist on the floor below. In both films, the people on the upper level include authority figures, who are sitting in judgment in some degree on the protagonist.

Bill Krohn aptly links Heidi's slide down the banister, with Fairbanks' slide down a giant curtain in Robin Hood. Dwan films are full of characters climbing up and down walls, trees, and every other vertical surface.

Overhead Shots

Dwan includes some of his patented overhead shots, looking down from Heidi's window in Frankfurt to carriages in the street below.

Water Works

One of the first things seen in the village, is a huge, elaborate fountain. Women are doing their laundry. This has nothing to do with the plot. One suspects it is just there because Dwan likes water works so much.

The snowball is also an unusual construction, involving a glass ball filled with water. It is one of the most miniature water works in Dwan. The way it is linked to memory of a lost childhood, and the way it gets smashed, anticipate the opening of Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941).

The slippery floor during the monkey episode, might also be loosely thought of as related to water works. We see someone scrubbing with a bucket: buckets being a common Dwan image in water works scenes.

The Dance

The Louis XIV part of the dance number, has the symmetry of image sometimes employed by Dwan.

The Louis XIV dancers also form one of Dwan's deep-focus corridors. There is some camera movement, as is typical of such Dwan corridors, showing people move down the corridor.

Animals, Escapes and Windows

The organ grinder's monkey runs away into the house, and gets chased as he moves around. This recalls the escape of the canary from his cage in He Comes Up Smiling, and Fairbanks' chase of the canary.

Animals are often symbolically matched in Dwan films with people who are caged or escaped. The Grandfather is put in jail, and escapes. And Heidi is essentially imprisoned in the Frankfurt house.

The Grandfather escapes out of a window, like several other Dwan characters who break out of jail. And the monkey enters the house through a window, recalling many human characters in other Dwan films who enter or leaves buildings through windows. Before that, we see a staging through a window, another common Dwan feature, with the monkey and organ grinder seen in the street through a house window.

Another kind of Dwan animal imagery occurs in Heidi: farm animals. Here, it is goats. Like the donkey in Suez, the goats are recalcitrant, difficult to manipulate, and the center of comedy sequences.

The Opening Shot

Some Dwan films show their characters against panoramas of canyons: Douglas Fairbanks against the Grand Canyon in A Modern Musketeer, more Southwest USA scenery in The River's Edge. The opening panorama shot of Heidi has much in common with these films. However, it is of a studio set, not a location filming of a canyon. And Shirley is off to the right hand side of the shot on a ledge, not directly in front of the canyon like Fairbanks.


Christian themes and imagery run though Heidi: Other religions are reverently depicted in other Dwan films: Islam in the Egyptian sequences of Suez, Judaism with the dying soldier's prayers in Sands of Iwo Jima.

Camera Movement

The remarkable shot showing people singing "Silent Night" in the street, is one of the most complex camera movements anywhere in Dwan. It is roughly in the same mode as some key Dwan camera movements, that follow people as they move through front yards of neighborhoods: see A Modern Musketeer, Belle Le Grand. The "Silent Night" shot differs in that it does not follow an individual person's movements. Also, the square the film depicts is not quite a front yard, although it might be the urban equivalent, being the space outside a series of urban homes.

The "Silent Night" night shot opens with a look at two exterior windows of the house. Dwan loved to shoot building windows from outside. However, this shot differs from many in Dwan in that there are no people in the windows, or real glimpses of the house inside.

When people leave the marionette show, the theater aisle forms one of Dwan's deep focus corridors. And as is typical for Dwan, there is a little camera movement along the axis of the corridor, following some people walking along it.

Outside the theater, there is a camera movement following the father carrying his daughter down the steps. Dwan liked camera movements of people moving on slopes. This particular shot is slow and very gentle. The steps are brief.

Other shots follow the Grandfather in the streets. These are more generic camera movements. Dwan regularly includes such "follow people in the streets" shots in his films.


The city official is in that Dwan favorite, a fancy dress uniform. And like many Dwan characters, the police have elaborate, unusual headgear: here, spiked helmets.

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938) is a musical with Shirley Temple.

Front Yards and Constructions

Dwan films are full of front yards. Some of the best scenes, visually, occur in the hero's front yard: The movable plank in front of the aunt's house, is also a sort of construction, although a small and simple one.

Shirley Temple moves from part of the aunt's yard, next door to the hero's. Dwan likes entire neighborhoods of front yards. However, I can't find a connection between this piece of the aunt's yard, and the main set of the aunt's front yard.

When the characters first drive up to the aunt's house, Dwan's camera follows them through the huge set featuring their farm and front yard. Later scenes will also take place in this set.

The Auditorium: A Multi-Level Set

The radio auditorium is seen in the first shot. This camera movement emphasizes that the set is on more than one level. So do the late scenes in the movie, which show the control booths high over the stage.

The opening shot involves men, walking high up behind the glass wall at the top of the auditorium. First we see a uniformed usher. Then men in good suits looking down.

Financial Processes

We see both the sponsorship of a new radio program, and the signing of talent. Neither process is shown in quite as much financial detail as is found in some Dwan movies. But there is still a fair amount of emphasis on the financial aspects.

There are also jokes about actions that might make radio networks go bankrupt. In 1938, at the height of radio, this was simply far-fetched humor.

The two rival radio producers at the end, resemble the rival government parties in other Dwan. After all, such men are in charge of and running the "country" of radio.

Engineering and Communication

Radio was high tech in 1938: The radio advertiser hero's status as an advocate of high tech, is indicated by the mural behind his desk. It is full of planes, radio antenna, gears and other technology symbols of the era.

The hero's office is the sort of ultra-lavish place, that will be parodied in Brewster's Millions. Both offices have built-in seats in one corner.

A number of signals run through the film:

Women Musicians

The all-woman orchestra in the opening "Happy Ending" number is interesting. Dwan featured a woman art student in Chances, and a young soprano in Belle Le Grand. All of these characters are treated with sober respect.

Enjoyment of Food

Food and its pleasures are featured throughout:


There is an unusual transition. At the radio rehearsal, we see Brooks and Haley in their normal street clothes. Then we transition to the actual broadcast, and they are now in formal wear. It makes an odd "jumping effect".


The "Come and Get Your Happiness" musical number is full of symmetry, something Dwan loves:


In the musical number at the end, dancer Bill Robinson wears a busby, and the chorus men are in elaborate helmets. Fancy headgear runs through Dwan.

So do dressy uniforms. The toy soldiers in this number are examples. So is the uniformed usher at the station.

Shirley Temple is in a man's toy soldier uniform, in the final dance number. The women dancers in Young People are also in men's clothes. This is a conceit that runs through many Hollywood musicals.


Allan Dwan's Suez (1938) and Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) have some common features. Both have many scenes taking place in vast outdoor landscapes in tropical latitudes. In both, the landscapes have a sandy foundation, and are full of a combination of natural scenery, and vast human enterprises taking place on them - construction in Suez, soldiers camping out in the latter film. In both, the heroes have to make their way through a difficult life, showing personal determination and courage. In both, public issues are paramount. In both, there are no clear directions for the heroes: they have to use their own best ideas, and are on their own, as far as any pre-conceived answers go. They have to make a lot of difficult decisions and commitments. In both, they meet gutsy women whose efforts mirror theirs in taking on a difficult world. Both have men friends, too, and spend a lot of interacting within groups. Both films have young men, who are trying to follow in the footsteps of a distinguished father, sometimes uneasily.

The hero of Suez is falsely accused of a crime, and subjected to censure from large sections of the public. Such a situation will recur in Dwan's Silver Lode (1954). Belle Le Grand also opens with its heroine convicted in court for her husband's crimes.

Dwan's films can take place in times of social upheaval. Life and society are not fixed and static; instead, great changes are taking place. This can be as small scale as the changing power in a city government in Slightly Scarlet, or as large scale as the building of the Suez Canal in Suez. Dwan's lead characters often trigger this social change. They seem to be riding a huge wave of change.

Water Works

The Suez Canal is the biggest of all water works in Dwan.

The heroine's bathing hut is perhaps a simple example of a water works, too. The recalcitrant donkey who pulls it, recalls the equally difficult mule on the railroad tracks in A Modern Musketeer.

Although it is not created by humans, one wonders if the rainbow should be considered a water works, too. It is a large "construction" produced by a rain storm.

Politics: Rivalries between Government Parties

Suez contains a fair amount of material about dictator Louis Napoleon versus democratic forces in France. Such a topic was timely, with the real world rise of Hitler and Stalin. It also embodies Dwan's long term interest in conflicts between government parties and groups.

The election of Disraeli in England also gets a good deal of attention. This too is a political conflict. The scenario could easily have avoided this, simply by showing Disraeli already in power. Instead, there is fairly extensive coverage of the election night itself.

Camera Movement

At the school for girls, the whole scene is one long take camera movement. First we see a matron move down the row of beds from left to right, followed by the camera. Then the heroine moves from right to left, back down the same row.

The camera moves in as Tyrone Power goes up the steps, in the ceremony at the end. Soon, the camera moves out as Power backs down the steps.

At the fete near the start, there are some of Dwan's looks down long corridor-like rooms. Some of these have Dwan's trademark "brief camera movements showing characters moving along these corridors towards the camera". One corridor is made to look even longer, by a mirror at its far end. Some of the rooms contain another favorite Dwan image, elaborate chandeliers.

The fete has an unusual for Dwan 90 degree pan, showing people making a right angle turn.


When Louis Napoleon is introduced at the tennis match at the start, he is photographed at the center of a symmetric composition. Such compositions run through Dwan. He is flanked on either side by similar views. This gives a typical such Dwan composition: someone in the middle, with matching views on either side.

What is unusual here is that Louis Napoleon looks at people off-screen, both to the left and right. Dwan cuts to these off-screen people, and they are in matching, paired views! These extra images preserve the symmetry of the shots of Louis Napoleon himself.


Loretta Young's fancy hats symbolize her corruption, her need for a life of luxury. These hats also exemplify Dwan's interest in unusual headgear. We first see Young in a huge hat with two veils on the side: something very overdone! (The woman in the Musketeer prologue in A Modern Musketeer wears a huge veil.)

Young's sinister motive - to wear a crown - also ties in with hat imagery.

Also unusual: the shiny helmets worn by the soldiers in Egypt.

The Three Musketeers

The Three Musketeers (1939) is a musical comedy version of the classic Dumas tale.

The Three Musketeers is not very good: one of Dwan's lesser movies. This inoffensive tale is full of dull material. I didn't like the Musketeer sequence in A Modern Musketeer, or The Iron Mask either. So maybe Dwan just doesn't connect with swashbuckling sagas.

The Ritz Brothers are often better than one might expect, with their comedy relief episodes. On the other hand, the film's songs are often not so hot, and the costumes are dull.

The Ritz Brothers act zany, while many characters around them play the swashbuckling material straight. This contrast in acting styles is also found in other Dwan films, such as The Gorilla. However, in The Three Musketeers the zany characters are in a minority, while in The Gorilla it is the serious actors who form a small exceptional group in a film full of more comic players and events.

Song of the Musketeers

This song makes one of the better scenes in the movie. It simply shows the Musketeers marching through Paris singing, while Dwan's camera tracks before them in the city streets. The Paris buildings are a bit interesting, and remind us that Dwan is an architecture-oriented director.

The song is reprised at the end, for a similar "march through Paris" finale.

The Rescue from the Cardinal's Palace

The next-to-last major sequence in the film, shows the heroes trying to rescue the heroine, who is held captive in the Cardinal's chateau. This sequence, while no masterpiece, is lively and successful in the way much of the film is not.

The sequence has a logical (if comic) story, with each event following logically from another. The rest of the film is often episodic, by contrast, with little narrative cohesion or flow.

The sequence benefits from the best Ritz Brothers material: a cymbal dance. The other song is also smoothly done.

Dwan also includes some of his trademark architectural style:

The final escape in the coach also has an inventive plot idea, involving the fence. I haven't seen this gambit in other films. It leads one to reflections on how ideas that don't fit into our standard ways of thinking can be "invisible", just like the escape path of the coach.


There is dialogue explicitly mentioning that the hero is confident with women. Since the majority of Hollywood heroes are also fairly confident with women, this dialogue is not too conspicuous or startling. But it makes a contrast with Robin Hood, whose hero is afraid of women. In both films, the story spells out the hero's psychological state.

The Gorilla

The Gorilla (1939) is an adaptation of a 1925 comedy-thriller stage play, by Ralph Spence.

Camera Style: The Long Shots

Dwan films much of the movie in long shot. These shots fulfill a number of functions:

Dwan's long shots are thus play-like, allowing a global view of the action, and cinematic, in that they create beautiful compositions. This is an unusual combination.

Dwan only rarely shifts to a close-up. Sometimes, he needs a scary close view of a gorilla head, or to make clear some intricate bit of business that needs to be seen closely. But he tends to do this as little as possible.

Dwan sometimes cuts from one long shot to another. But he also frequently includes camera movements. These have the effect of adjusting the camera from one long shot position, to another. Dwan can move in. Or pan to the left or right. Or make a lateral camera movement through the set. In most cases, the moves are designed to serve as "long shots in motion". They are highly unusual, in this effect, which is not all that common in film history. While these shots sometime reframe the image due to the characters moving to a different part of the set, they do not seem like pure accompaniments of walking characters, a far more common type of camera movement.


The ensemble approach here returns in other Dwan films. The way in which different groups of characters keep interacting with each other, always moving the plot forward, is a kind of construction also seen in some of these Dwan ensemble pieces. A non-farcical example is The Inside Story (1948). It also shows up in Dwan farces, such as Up in Mabel's Room (1944). Such great critics as Peter Bogdanovich and Andrew Sarris loved Up in Mabel's Room, and disliked The Gorilla, but I felt exactly the opposite. Don't know what this difference of response means, if anything.

Acting styles in the film are calibrated in strange ways. The Ritz Bothers and Patsy Kelly do comedy, the uncle, his niece and her boy friend do straight dramatics, and the other characters are pitched somewhere in between. Dwan and his performers never lose sight of their approaches. They are perhaps helped by the "comedy relief" tradition of studio Hollywood film, in which one character would supply a succession of jokes in an otherwise serious film - see Alan Hale in Raoul Walsh's Manpower, for example. The niece and boy friend are especially good. They manage to keep on delivering apparently conventional dramatics, when everyone else is mugging in all directions. There is something a bit self conscious about all this, in a good way. I think the audience is encouraged to enjoy these performances. They are slightly heightened, and seem a bit tongue in cheek. Edward Norris is particularly steady as the noble boy-friend, always showing the exactly right pitch of concern for the heroine, and proper level of response to the horror twists of the plot. He is fascinating to watch, in a performance that is deliberately cut loose by the director from a realistic context around him. The Gorilla is in some ways an experimental film, in which Dwan is playing in creative ways, taking apart conventional narrative structures the way Alain Resnais would do with L'Année dernière à Marienbad.

The heroine's gesture of grief late in the film, when she collapses in a chair, seems stage-like. It is highly effective. It also seems designed to be seen as part of a long shot - one of the Ritz Brothers is also performing in the background. Dwan uses such gestures, rather than focussing in on a close-up of the heroine.

Pre-Film Noir

The Gorilla (1939) is of the era that might be termed "pre-film noir". True noir films begin in 1940, with Boris Ingster's The Stranger on the Third Floor, and gradually emerge as a genre in 1941-1942. The Gorilla (1939) is definitely not noir. But it has a few features that seem to anticipate noir to come:

Architecture and Climbing

Dwan likes characters climbing. The Gorilla opens with the gorilla climbing on the roof. Later, the gorilla climbs down the side of the house. Both climbing on roofs, and up-and-down, are common Dwan tropes.

The staircase is another Dwan set on multiple levels.

Secret passages are a recurring Dwan subject. So are hidden hiding places, such as the safe bend the painting in The Gorilla.

Cars keep arriving at the front of the mansion, recalling Chances.

Path / Reverse Path Camera Movement

At the start, the camera shows the outside of the house. The camera moves from a window, up to the roof. Soon it moves back along the same path in reverse: from the roof back to the window.

There is a delightful shot, just before dinner. The camera moves left-to-right with characters through the study, but none of them are aware a man is pressed up against the window in the background. It's both eerie and funny in its over-the-top quality. Soon the characters move left, once again oblivious to the menacing man behind the window, who is only revealed in this second shot at the end, when lightning strikes.

A nice long take in the kitchen with Patsy Kelly and the Ritz's moves from the table back to the sink, then forward to the table again. Then it moves around the rest of the kitchen.


When Bela Lugosi slides the study doors shut for the first time, the screen suddenly turns into a symmetric composition: a door on either side, surrounding Lugosi in the middle. Dwan like symmetric compositions. In other Dwan films, some compositions are often built up from rooms of people. This shot of in The Gorilla is simpler: just a pair of doors. However, it is also more complex, in that it shows an asymmetric image suddenly becoming symmetric, as the doors fill up the shot.

The shot also exemplifies the "rule of threes": a central object (Lugosi) surround by matching objects on either side (the doors).


The arches in the staircase hall are rounded at the top. They are used to bring curves into the compositions.

The kitchen table where Patsy Kelly works is circular. It is full of circular dishes.

Some lights are circular, and full of a circle of hanging fringe. These include the table lamp on the study desk, and the chandelier in the dining room.

Financial Processes

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) plays a role in the plot. This is an important US government agency, which regulates the stock market and finance. It had only been in existence for a few years, since being founded in 1934. It is somewhat astonishing to see such a modern, innovative institution being involved in The Gorilla.

This is an example of how important financial processes are to Dwan.

The SEC was created as part of President Roosevelt's New Deal. Its invocation in The Gorilla might also be a reference to the New Deal and its liberal politics.

The SEC also shows up in the prose mystery novel Old Lover's Ghost (1940) by Leslie Ford. Old Lover's Ghost was serialized in America's leading fiction magazine The Saturday Evening Post. The SEC received attention in the era's entertainment.

The Gorilla

The gorilla is one of many animals in Dwan films who escape from cages.

Patsy Kelly winds up locked in the gorilla's cage. This is one of several scenes in Dwan films, of humans caged like animals. As in most such Dwan sequences, this is played for laughs.

SPOILER. The finale includes a human masquerading as a gorilla: something the plot has been hinting at from the start: the police suggest the "gorilla" is a human killer. The breakdown of lines between human and animals is also a Dwan theme.

On Fakery: The "gorilla" is obviously a costume, one that does not look very realistic. It is easy to make fun of this. However, one suspects that the way the costume is obviously fake is deliberate. 20th Century Fox could easily have created a much more realistic or much scarier costume. But The Gorilla is light entertainment, filled with comedy. The non-scary, obviously fake gorilla turns its scenes into good-natured fun. It is hilarious to see the gorilla tailing after the Ritz Brother. This delightful sequence wouldn't have been amusing, if the audience felt the man was in genuine danger.

Kids love stories about gorillas, and other big animals: dinosaurs, elephants, hippos. Whenever DC Comics in the 1950's put a gorilla on one of the covers of their comic books, sales would soar. The Gorilla is in part a film for kids. They get to see a gorilla running amok, but not really doing anything bad. The fake-looking gorilla isn't scary either. A good time can be had by the whole family.

Antecedents in Mystery Fiction

The Gorilla recalls the play The Bat (1920) by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood. Both works: In The Gorilla, threats are made to kill a man at midnight in his home, even though he is surrounded by detectives. Such "killings announced with warnings and a deadline" are common in books, film and comics. An early example is the short novel The Four Just Men (1905) by Edgar Wallace.

Frontier Marshal

Frontier Marshal (1939) is a Western. It tells the story of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday and the big shoot-out in Tombstone. It was remade as My Darling Clementine (John Ford, 1946).

Frontier Marshal is not one of my favorite Dwan films. It is racist in its treatment of the "drunken Indian" stereotype. Its negative look at a "bad woman" is puritanical. It is only a little better in these aspects than Dwan's early A Modern Musketeer (1917), which also suffered serious bigotry problems.

In addition, the story is relentlessly violent. Its characters are unlikeable, with few positive goals or values. I confess I don't understand the perennial appeal of the Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday story. My Darling Clementine has wonderfully lyric photography - but it has never seemed central to John Ford's work to me, which is where many critics place it.

Entrance of the Hero: Camera Movement

One of the best staged sequences of the film is the entrance of the hero. Unfortunately, this is also the "drunken Indian" scene. Still, its elaborate camera movements are worth studying.

Earp (Randolph Scott) enters the film climbing down a pole from a balcony, just like Douglas Fairbanks used to do. And Dwan follows him with a vertical camera movement, just like he used to do with Fairbanks.

Scott moves across the street to the saloon, with two striking lateral camera movements. These show Scott full figure, a favorite Dwan staging, and show his prominent cowboy boots: also a Dwan favorite. After the shooting in the saloon, Dwan promptly has Scott return back across the street. Dwan shows Scott's return with the same two camera movements, only moving in the reverse direction. The scene has the path / reverse path camera movements that are a key element of Dwan's style. The parallelism is quite strong: both the trip over and the return are broken down into the same two moving camera shots, with a reaction shot cut in-between showing onlookers.

Immediately after this, a separate shot follows Scott as he moves through the crowd. This Sternberg style camera movement has crowd members as foreground objects in a lateral movement, behind whom we see Scott move. (Later, in the Bella Union saloon, the bad gal will have some similar moving camera shots accompanying her as she makes her way through the crowd.)

Soon after, Scott returns to the hotel. We see one of Dwan's deep focus stagings down a corridor, inside the hotel. As is typical of Dwan in such corridor shots, the camera follows Scott moving straight down the corridor as he walks along it.

Staging Through Doors and Windows

The newspaper, early in the film, shows the town street through the window and open door of the paper's office.

One can see from the saloon into the street, through open doors.

One can see the street from the office window at the Bella Union. A character on the street comes up to the window, and talks to the men inside.

During Eddie Foy's stage show, a tableau shot shows the stage, the people in the audience, and the street outside through the open doors of the saloon. It is a spectacular example of tableau staging, taking in the entire group in the saloon.

An alcove in a saloon, has an open doorway through which one can see the saloon and its bar.

Financial Processes

At the end, a sign announces that a bank will be opening in Tombstone. This symbolizes a new level of civilization coming to the town. This bank opening is a simple example of one of Dwan's financial processes.

Entertainer Eddie Foy is passed from one saloon to another, forced by crooked owners. In an odd way, this anticipates the circulation of money in The Inside Story. He is an "asset" being "circulated".

Water Works

The horse trough is a simple example of Dwan's water works.

A barrel is shot, and water pours out of the bullet hole.


Eddie Foy's comedy bow tie is a spectacular example of the bow ties that run through Dwan's films.

There are other Dwan staples in the costumes:

Young People

Young People (1940) is a musical with Shirley Temple.

Economic and Social Processes: The Town Meeting

At the center of Young People is the Town Meeting. This is explicitly set up as a look at traditional small town democracy in action. Dwan loved to show economic and social processes at work. The meeting involves both participatory democracy, and discussions about the economic direction the town should take. Like the stock market sequence in Belle Le Grand, this involves a large indoor gathering of a crowd of energetic, eagerly participating people, in a dynamic meeting.

Like The Inside Story, Young People has a didactic intent. Both films try to teach the audience a sociological lesson, with their portraits of a social-economic process. Young People wants people in small towns to shake off old ways, and start trying to connect themselves with up-to-date aspects of the US economy as a whole.

The meeting brings out another persistent Dwan theme: young people dissatisfied with their small town existence. Unlike, say, Douglas Fairbanks in A Modern Musketeer, who merely leaves his home town when the chance arises, in Young People the youth actually revolt, and try to change things, politically and economically.

Young People is unusual, in that a sympathetic character is actually a named member of a political party. Young newspaperman George Montgomery is explicitly a supporter of the Democratic Party. And his old fogey opponents in the town are depicted as enemies of the New Deal. I've seen few films this explicit about who the Good Guys and Bad Guys are.

Dwan films are frequently about the political struggle between two groups. The liberal townspeople versus conservative traditionalists in Young People is an example.

George Montgomery attacks the idea of "normal". He doesn't want things in town to be "normal": he wants them to improve.

Other Financial Processes: Acquiring the Farm

How the family acquires the farm is also a financial process, made clear in detail by the film. Similarly, when Anthony Quinn sells his farm in The River's Edge, we see the financial transaction on-screen.

The "Fifth Avenue" song talks sympathetically about people window shopping for what they cannot afford to buy.

Civil Engineering

Other Dwan films involve major civil engineering projects, such as the canal builder in Suez. In Young People, civil engineering is discussed, but not shown on screen. The town meeting discusses bridge repair. The good guys are in favor of it, the bad guys opposed.

Late in the movie, the town gravel pit is also analyzed.

Technology and Communication

Shirley Temple mentions television, quoting from an article in Variety. Television in 1940 was in its earliest stages as an entertainment medium.

Jack Oakie tries to repair the family's radio.

An educational film about earthworms is mentioned and made fun of. This is a bit odd, because Dwan films themselves sometimes have educational aspects, especially about financial processes, and sometimes about science.

The Storm

Young People is another Dwan film with a major storm. People have to battle the elements, just as they did in the big sand storm in Suez.

On a literal plot level, the events here are closer to those in A Modern Musketeer. Both films show violent hurricanes, attacking small towns.

Events in the storm are sometimes staged on hills. The kids take refuge in a house at the top of a hill. The lost little boy is rescued from a gully or ditch at the base of a steep incline. This hilly terrain oddly anticipates some of the battlegrounds in Sands of Iwo Jima.

Social Outcasts

Several Dwan films include heroes who are falsely accused, and who become social outcasts. The family in Young People are not quite accused of anything, other than being city slickers who don't know the wisdom of traditional small town ways. But they definitely become social outcasts.

When the drug store barometer correctly predicts a hurricane, it is disbelieved and described as broken. This is a bit like the false accusations leveled at humans in other Dwan films. The barometer might be seen as a kind of water works technology - although we don't see any fluids on-screen.

The Theater

Dwan shoots his on-stage characters, against huge backgrounds of the theater. These recall the shooting of characters outdoors, against scenic vistas. The theaters, complete with balconies, are also examples of the multi-story architecture that runs through Dwan.

Depth Staging through Architecture

The "Fifth Avenue" song is staged both in front of curtains, and in a set behind them revealed when the curtain moves back.

Later, when "Fifth Avenue" is reprised at home, a dining room and its door curtain are used for a similar effect.

At the newspaper office, windows look out into the street. Characters tap on the windows, extending the action into the street.

In the drug store, the street with the parents' car can be seen through the window.

The Family

The baby is an example of the strange gifts that sometimes occur in Dwan.

The concealed adoption is an example of family members with secrets in Dwan.

The family includes another of Dwan's mothers of adult children.


The jester in Robin Hood did everything the king did. In Young People, both Shirley Temple and Charlotte Greenwood are always in the same men's clothes as Jack Oakie. This gives them coherence as a team. It also suggests they are comic clones of him, a bit like the jester and the king. Paradoxically, it also has feminist elements, suggesting they are taking on men's roles and independence, rather than being restricted to what 1940 regarded as a "woman's sphere".

The family costumes include that Dwan favorite, white tie and tails.

Eddie is briefly seen in a leather jacket, in the newspaper office. In 1940, leather jackets were perhaps young men's wear. The clean cut, very young Eddie is an example. See also the college types in Star Dust (Walter Lang, 1940). Both Star Dust and Young People have costumes by Gwen Wakeling. They are unusual in pre-war Hollywood films in showing people in leather jackets who are not working-men like pilots or cab drivers. Next year will come another young man, who is a crook and much less respectable, in High Sierra (Raoul Walsh, 1941).

Charlotte Greenwood has a wild hat with stripes and a striped tail. This is perhaps an example of the elaborate headgear in Dwan films.

Around the World

Around the World (1943) is a low-key film, showing Kay Kyser's band entertaining troops. It is mainly a "concert film", showcasing the music and comedy numbers of members of Kyser's outfit. Around the World is entertaining in a mild way, and the music and comedy routines are pleasant. However, much of the film is not especially creative, and does little to express Dwan's subjects, interests or mise-en-scène.

Dwan Subjects

Kyser's band is on the move, traveling from locale to locale: a Dwan subject.

And we follow the progress of a young woman who wants to become a singer, also a Dwan subject.

The singer's passport problems lands her in the office of the American Consul in India. This official is as close as one gets in Around the World to Dwan's interest in politics. Political aspects are downplayed here, however, compared to other Dwan films. The Consul talks genially about coordinating his rulings on the singer with the Indian authorities. This is perhaps a faint echo of the two political organizations/parties that form a Dwan subject in other movies.

The Consul has a huge office, anticipating the hero's huge office in Brewster's Millions.

Many Dwan films show financial processes or occasionally technical subjects. The closest Around the World comes to this is a comedy routine about time zones in Australia and the USA. This routine is nonsensical rather than informative or educational, unlike other Dwan films with technical subjects. The routine anticipates a bit the more logically coherent, realistic discussion of currency exchange rates between US dollars and Australian pounds in Abroad with Two Yanks.

Reflexive Plotting

SPOILERS. An unusual joke appears at the end of the ring episode. One character talks about them getting involved in a (spy) plot concerning the ring. Kay Kyser throws the ring away, and says there is not going to be any plot! This seems to be a joke, about the way Around the World has no plot, and is just a string of comedy and songs. Indeed, from this point on all mention of the ring vanishes from the picture - and the film resumes its plotless, episodic quality. This self-reflexive reference to the actual plot structure of a film is unusual.

Earlier there was a joke about the Hays Office (the Hollywood censorship board) and what they might think about some events in Around the World. This too is a bit self-referential, although less decisively so than the dialogue about "plot".

The Chinese

Kay Kyser gives a patriotic speech about how American and Chinese soldiers are working together, and flying together, to defeat the Axis. It treats the Chinese as fully equal partners. This is commendable.

The only Chinese characters are very briefly seen. A Chinese hotel worker tells Kyser a garden is decorated for his act. Later, we briefly see a Chinese soldier in the street. These characters are non-stereotyped - but not very prominent.

The Duel

A nightclub scene is full of Dwan subjects. It seems like part of a "real Dwan movie": In a later scene, Ish Kabibble's invented musical instrument will perhaps be another "engineered object".

Strange Voices

Singer Harry Babbitt does a comedy number in falsetto. His high-pitched voice anticipates a bit the much more elaborate drag number in Abroad with Two Yanks. He also does a Looney Tunes imitation in the same song. Strange-voice comedy will return in the non-Dwan film Ladies of the Chorus (Phil Karlson, 1948). It was perhaps a 1940's kind of humor - and maybe encouraged by radio, then at its peak of popularity.

Throughout the rest of the movie, Harry Babbitt sticks to "normal", romantic singing, and avoids comedy entirely. He is perhaps one of those Dwan characters who "acts with non-comic realism in a comedy film".

Animals and Cages

Animal imagery runs through Dawn. It appears in Around the World in mild form, centering on the line between humans and animals being blurred: Joan Davis also gets involved in a stage act with dogs.

Dwan films sometimes show people in cages, like animals:

Hats and Masks

A comedy routine climaxes with Joan Davis' head concealed inside a giant mask that represents a huge apple. Her head is completely encased in the mask, a Dwan tradition.

A woman in Cairo wears a huge circular hat. Another woman at her table wears a complexly wound-up hat. Unusual head gear is a Dwan tradition.

Kay Kyser appears in one scene as a college professor: a regular part of his stage act, and not invented by Dwan. Kyser wears a traditional flat mortar board cap with his academic gown.


Wally Brown does his stand-up comedy routine, while playing the pilot of the plane. He is outfitted in a really sharp uniform, a Dwan tradition.

Just before, the band had been saying goodbye to Australia at a dock. This scene had been full of uniformed men, some in sharp dress uniforms. The film emphasizes these men as sources of sexuality. Some are with women. Others are men comedienne Joan Davis is trying unsuccessfully to get to romance her.

During some of the stage numbers, the band and singers are in white tuxedos. Formal wear runs through Dwan films.

Up in Mabel's Room

Up in Mabel's Room (1944) is a farce, about a husband trying to recover a slip he gave to an old girlfriend, before his wife finds it.

I think Up in Mabel's Room is a tedious farce, with often unpleasant characters and situations, and little compensating visual style. It has a couple of good scenes (the dream, the hero's brief outburst of joy), but mainly it is one of Dwan's least enjoyable films. Admittedly, taste in comedy is a personal thing, and some expert critics are on record as enjoying Up in Mabel's Room. Seeing a good husband cringe in fear because his nasty tempered wife might discover that he (gasp!) had another girlfriend long before he met her, just seems distressing to me, not funny. The same is true of seeing another couple's marriage hit the rocks, because the husband catches another man sneaking around her bedroom (she knows nothing about it, and is a faithful wife). Nor does wreaking havoc on a third couple's wedding ceremony seem amusing - just unpleasant. Some of this material does relate, however, to Dwan's theme of characters who are falsely accused.

One can see other thematic links. Most of Up in Mabel's Room transpires at a week-end house party: Dwan's films are full of parties. And the wife's rotten mother is another look in Dwan of mothers of grown children.

The Russian and his Labor Union

Mischa Auer's Russian waiter is mainly sympathetic, if comic. He claims to be of royal blood, so he is likely non-Communist or even anti-Communist, although politics are not discussed. I love the gag where Auer snaps his fingers at a flickering light, and it goes back on.

There is a brief mention that Auer belongs to the "waiter's union", and that the union frowns on unethical behavior by its members. Compared to other descriptions of economic institutions in Dwan, this is short and simple. Still, it is notable as a mention of the labor union movement in a Hollywood film.

Architecture and Motion

Up in Mabel's Room has a little of Dwan's trademark motion around architecture: One of the film's best scenes in O'Keefe's outburst of joy half-way though, when he thinks he has recovered the slip. He runs around the furniture and set, with a Douglas Fairbanks-like exuberance. It recalls Fairbanks running joyously amok in his parents' living room in A Modern Musketeer. O'Keefe is a little less extravagant than Fairbanks, but still shows something of the same style: The "miniature", "pocket version" of these acrobatics make them especially charming. Both take place in a single shot.

Staging Through Doors and Windows

The ground floor rooms in the house interlock, and Dwan regularly stages action so that we see from one room through a doorway into another room. This is a standard Dwan approach. It is nice enough in Up in Mabel's Room, and adds a bit of visual interest to the scenes. One of the best such shots shows people putting together a jigsaw puzzle, in a far room seen through a doorway.

Dwan has one of his through a window shots, when people outside watch action in the house through a window.

A deep focus shot NOT linked to architecture: the hero burning his lipstick-stained napkin in the fireplace in the background, while others talk in the foreground.

The Dream

The brief dream sequence is the best part of Up in Mabel's Room. Its plethora of characters in elaborate costumes anticipates the finale of Dwan's next film, Abroad with Two Yanks. That finale is far longer and complex, however, and set in the real world, rather than being a dream.

The hero's formal wear is part of a Dwan tradition, to have men dressed up. And the hero's top hat also recalls Dwan's love of elaborate headgear. Dwan men are more likely, however, to be in white tie and tails and other evening wear, than to be in the formal day clothes of Up in Mabel's Room. These are most popular in real life at weddings, and the clothes seem to have a wedding party look. This is in keeping with the "problems of marriage" subject of Up in Mabel's Room as a whole.

The dream recalls a bit the daydream opening of Stage Struck. That too eventually has leading man Lawrence Gray running around dressed-to-the-nines, this time in a comic operetta style fancy uniform.

Abroad with Two Yanks

Abroad with Two Yanks (1944) is a farce, about two rival Marines competing for the same woman. The early sections rely on farce conceptions, such as mistaken identity. The later parts of the film are richer in mise-en-scène.

While it is a comedy, Abroad with Two Yanks anticipates Sands of Iwo Jima:

Dialogue talks about how Bendix lost a football play-off, when he got distracted by a woman in the stands. This is an echo of the opening tennis scene in Suez, where Tyrone Power gets misses a tennis ball, when he takes his mind off the game to look at a woman in the stands. In Abroad with Two Yanks, Bendix gets hit in the neck by a football.

When O'Keefe raises money for the ring, Bendix gets confused about currency exchange rates between US dollars and Australian pounds. This is a brief example of Dwan's interest in financial processes.

The judo match between Bendix and O'Keefe in the garden, is another example of a contest in Dwan.


The most elaborate construction is the canteen. This is an outdoor stand, built opposite a long picket fence. Nearby, a kangaroo in a wheeled cage is pushed by.

The canteen's food, coffee, sandwiches and donuts, is an example of the enjoyment of food theme in Dwan.

O'Keefe climbs a tree and moves over a fence, in a way that would do credit to Douglas Fairbanks.

There is also a plank, over the orchestra pit at the stage.


There are characters moving through windows: Bendix sneaking back into the barracks, the heroes leaving through a window later.

We also see the heroes with their heads stuck out through portholes, the "windows" of the ship. This recalls several shots in Dwan, in which we see characters from outside buildings, through windows. Also: at the club, Bendix and Loder stand outside, watching through a window.

The phone booth has a back wall made of glass. We see the set behind it through the booth's wall. This is a bit like the glass doors elsewhere in Dwan.

The greenhouse is an elaborate window-walled room. We frequently see though these window walls.

The square dance is shown from outside the building, through open French doors.

Water Works

The washing Bendix does on ship could be a simple example of water works. We also see Jane Russell doing hand laundry in Montana Belle. Dwan showed a woman doing dishes repeatedly in his silent Manhandled.

Also a simple kind of water works: scrubbing down the jail cell, including a bucket that gets thrown.

But the film's true water works scene is cleaning out the well. It is a geometrically striking large circular hole. The men actually get inside it. They also use a special tool, hoe-like implements with buckets for bailing on the end. These can be described as special water work construction equipment. Dwan includes shots of dynamic things happening to the water: air bubbles coming up; the men spewing water at each other from their mouths.

Camera Movement

Abroad with Two Yanks has two shots with characters walking down angled slopes, a favorite Dwan subject for camera movement: Dwan has a pair of beautifully designed camera movements, with the characters walking along the balustrade in the garden outside the party. One has Bendix and the heroine move from right-to-left. Later, Bendix and Loder move back along the same path, but in the reverse direction. This sort of path / reverse path camera movement runs through Dwan. These camera movements also reflect another kind of Dwan favorite: tracks through gardens or yards. The first movement with Bendix and the heroine has many plants in the foreground, recalling Sternberg. While this track is quite lateral, the sequel with Bendix and Loder shoots them more on an angle, and with fewer "romantic" plants and foreground objects.

There is deep focus staging down corridors, with the heroes moving a bit along them, accompanied by the camera. This too is a standard kind of Dwan scene:

A pan at the fair moves to the left, until we see the heroes in a strange distorting mirror.

Animals and People in Cages

Abroad with Two Yanks repeatedly shows both animals and people in cages: This parallel between humans and animals in cages was also a main theme in He Comes Up Smiling.


The fair at the end, has that Dwan favorite, masks. These are unusual masks that cover the entire head, like the helmet Fairbanks wears in Robin Hood.

Normal Performers and Zaniness

The heroine is remarkably refined and lady-like. She makes a deliberate contrast with the rowdy, low brow heroes.

John Loder, a skilled performer, is deliberately clumsy with the pick-up lines fed him by Bendix. This makes his character seem sincere and un-manipulative. Like the heroine, he is a "normal" character floating through a zany farce.

Brewster's Millions

Financial Processes - to the Max

Brewster's Millions (1945) is a comedy, about a man forced to spend one million dollars.

One can see what might have attracted Dwan to this project. Dwan's films are full of depictions of economic processes. Brewster's Millions is virtually an encyclopedia of such financial systems, shown in lavish and often realistic economic detail:

These systems are all played for laughs. But they also are educational looks inside these worlds, just as in other Dwan films. As in The Inside Story, we see a great deal about money circulating around. And as in Young People, there are often realistically named institutions, such as labor unions and government agencies.

The hero's difficulties spending money, anticipate the "problems" the wealthy miner Hope Emerson in Belle Le Grand has in furnishing her castle of a mansion in the most lavish way possible. Both are nouveau riche former ordinary people, who now comically have to put up a front.

Brewster's Millions also recalls A Modern Musketeer, in contrasting a zany wealthy hero, with the normal business people at a large company. Brewster's Millions is much less malicious than A Modern Musketeer. In A Modern Musketeer, a worker is depicted as a wimp who is less masculine than the wealthy hero, a nasty concept. In Brewster's Millions, the ordinary people are treated with sympathy and respect. They know their job, do it well, and try to protect the hero from what they see as his "madness". They are admirably honorable, showing genuine integrity in difficult situations.

Like other Dwan films, Brewster's Millions is full of working women. The heroine has long been employed as a secretary. Her mother has run a rooming house. We briefly see a woman cab driver: an artifact of World War II, when US cabs were frequently driven by women.

Falsely Accused

The hero is one of many Dwan characters who are falsely accused: this time of being a spendthrift or deranged. Unlike many other Dwan heroes, this never leads to any sort of social ostracism. But he does get denounced in the press, like the hero of Suez.

Valuing Black People

Brewster's Millions emphasizes its black character's skill at work. Eddie Anderson is shown at good at his various jobs. He is also shown as intelligent and perceptive in his comments.

Dialogue at the start stresses that Eddie Anderson is a war hero, having served in the Pacific fleet.

Normal Performers and Zaniness

In The Gorilla, such performers as boyfriend Edward Norris had to act "normal", in the midst of all the zaniness going on. Their performances almost made The Gorilla a sort of experimental film.

Something a bit similar happens in Brewster's Millions, with the hero's financial advisor (Herbert Rudley) and fiancée having to play it straight, in the midst of the financial absurdity in which they are trapped. Herbert Rudley is especially convincing as a real financial expert. He understands the world of money and management very well, and loyally tries to give good advice in all this zany chaos. It is a well-done performance, and also carefully supported by the financial detail in the screenplay. One suspects that both films' characterizations were carefully graded and conceptualized by the director.

The Lobby - and its Tracks

Several of Dwan's films feature memorable tracking shots, moving through front yards of buildings. Brewster's Millions has an interior track that perhaps is analogous. The huge lobby of Brewster's company is set up as a long, vast corridor, in front of a row of office doors of the characters. This lobby is like a "front yard" of the various offices. And the doors are like the series of neighborhood houses in A Modern Musketeer. Dwan has a spectacular tracking shot, past all these doors, following the characters. Soon the camera reverses itself, and we get another move down the corridor, in the opposite direction.

Later, Micky and Trixie walk down the same long lobby. They are followed by what looks mainly like a pan.

The lobby also includes that Dwan trademark, an elevator.


The hero sends massive amounts of flowers to the heroine, anticipating Belle Le Grand, and all the flowers sent to the opera singer. The flowers are visually elaborate in both films.

The Office

The hero's office has a built-in seat, in a curving nook. Similarly, the heroine's room at the castle in Robin Hood had a built-in seat, near her window.

The cast watches a horse race on television, in the office. Television was still something of a novelty in 1945. People will later watch a newscast on TV in Slightly Scarlet. In both films, the television set frames the image.

The office is full of circular arcs. The hero's desk is curved. The built-in seat is round. Pictures are circular, there is a round table, a lamp with a rounded top on the hero's desk, spherical bowls.


While watching television, the hero stands in the middle in back, and two other characters stand on each side of him. This is close to one of Dwan's symmetric compositions - except that the room behind the characters is not symmetric.

Revealing a Face

At the opening, the face of Eddie Anderson is gradually revealed, as he removes soap from a window he is washing. The gradual build-up of a face, reminds one a little bit of the construction of the silhouette in Robin Hood. The parallel is not close.

Calendar Girl

Calendar Girl (1947) is a nostalgic musical set in turn-of-the-century New York City.

The heroine is a woman singer, a profession that runs through Dwan. Many of the characters are aspiring young artists and musicians, also Dwan favorites.


One of the main joys of Calendar Girl is the way Dwan treats architecture and the sets. The film recalls Dwan's pictures with Douglas Fairbanks. We have such favorite Dwan approaches as: Many of the sets interlace considered as locations in the story, even if they are not actually connected on the sound stage. There is a third story in the rooming house, with a huge studio apartment; a dance studio; a sidewalk and street out front; and a restaurant in the basement. Dwan has fun with this rich, complex geographical world, with the characters constantly on the move.

Camera Movement

Calendar Girl is loaded with camera movement. Combined with the elaborate sets, the movements make the film resemble a huge wind-up toy. It seems like a delightful mechanism.

Dwan often follows the characters as they walk through rooms.

Camera movements follow the characters from floor to floor, as they go down the large staircase. Dwan is clearly having fun with these spectacular shots.

Towards the end, there is a vertical pan, as the camera moves from one window showing a musician, to the window above also with a musician.

The camera follows the heroine down the sidewalk. Most notably, this occurs when the heroine gets away from the crowds admiring her calendar painting.

A Contest

Also recalling the Fairbanks film Robin Hood: the tug-o-war contest at the fireman's picnic. Just as the knights jousted at the tournament in Robin Hood, so here too do we have a public contest.


The costumes in Calendar Girl are festive. James Ellison is a splendidly dressed Dwan young man, like Tyrone Power in Suez. Both men wear white tie and tails.

The firemen's uniforms are also good. Their huge helmets recall Dwan's interest in elaborate head gear.

Northwest Outpost

Northwest Outpost (1947) is an operetta film with Nelson Eddy.

I thought Nelson Eddy gave a sound performance, and portrayed a likable character. I don't agree with points-of-view that his performance was Camp or silly.

Reviving a Genre: Operetta

Operettas had not been much made in 1947. Nelson Eddy had last appeared in one in The Chocolate Soldier (1941).

Northwest Outpost can seem like an attempt to revive a nearly extinct genre, the operetta film. Just as The Gorilla can seem experimental, so does the deliberately atypical-genre Northwest Outpost.


Northwest Outpost is an ambitious film in some ways - but it has problems. The music for the songs is dull. And the songs are mainly not creatively staged. The song passages are thus mainly uninteresting. Northwest Outpost is the opposite of many musicals, which are good in the musical passages and dreary in their nonmusical segments. By contrast, the non-musical parts of Northwest Outpost are largely better than the musical episodes.

The main story of Northwest Outpost is grim. Its suffering heroine is blackmailed and pressured by the film's villains. Northwest Outpost is something of a "soap opera". Northwest Outpost is a musical, but hardly a musical comedy.

Northwest Outpost doesn't succeed in its treatment of minorities:

Both of these episodes are minor and brief. But they are enough to give modern-day viewers legitimate concerns about watching Northwest Outpost.


Links to Heidi

Driftwood (1947) is a drama about a little girl (played by Natalie Wood). It recalls Dwan's earlier Shirley Temple vehicle, Heidi: While Natalie Wood in Driftwood is intelligent and decent, she is not a person who solves everyone's troubles: unlike Shirley Temple.

Small Towns, Politics - and Links to Young People

The hero is one of many Dwan characters who are dissatisfied with small town life. He plans to move to San Francisco. And Walter Brennan wishes he were young enough to pull up stakes and join him.

Driftwood is one of many Dwan films with conflicts between political factions. The town's second-rate mayor wants to build a park, the doctor hero wants the town to build a hospital. The mayor brands the doctor a "radical". This recalls Young People, which also had small town political conflicts over a building project, a dam. Young People also explicitly labeled the good side as liberal, something of a rarity in Hollywood films.

The little girl actually compares the small town to Sodom and Gomorrah! This is because of all the lying and disrespect for truth she sees there. (No one in the film seems the least bit gay, and no queer reference seems intended.)

A highlight of Young People was the town meeting. Driftwood has dialogue about a town meeting, but it is not shown on-screen.

Financial Processes

Driftwood is full of that favorite Dwan subject, financial processes. The hero feels he cannot marry because he is poor, and likely to be poor all his life because he is a research scientist. At the end, he gets a research grant. This is going to change his life: he can persist in his work, and also get married. There is an educational aspect to this, as in several Dwan films. Driftwood is showing the audience how important research grants are, and how much benefit they can provide to society. Government money for research had been given during World War II, and would be greatly extended in the post-war economic boom. Driftwood is advocating such grants, and educating the public about all they can accomplish.

The arrival of the grant money at the end, and all the good it can accomplish, anticipates the circulation of money in The Inside Story. Both Driftwood and The Inside Story are educational films, designed to teach the audience.

Other financial processes appear. Earlier, we see the doctor hero bartering his medical services for clothes.

The heroine is a school teacher, and she has been saving money out of her tiny salary in hopes of marriage. The hero is horrified: he believes he should support the family. But Dwan and Driftwood seems to support the heroine's actions and attitude. Unfortunately, this subject is forgotten and never resolved during the film's end. It anticipates the working wife in The Inside Story.

A character is jailed for non-payment of alimony. This is only done in passing, and not much discussed. It is mainly an excuse to get a harmless character in jail, for comedy scenes. This jail comedy recalls Tide of Empire.

Education and Technology

Several Dwan films have educational aspects. Often these are about money. But Driftwood educates about science: it teaches the importance of vaccination. This is still a timely topic.

Driftwood has technological environments:

It also has technological equipment, notably the centrifuge at the end. This is not quite one of Dwan's engineered object: it has not been altered by his hero. But it is still a visually dramatic technological object.

The finale has more and more characters participating in the doctor hero's technological world. First the townspeople come in to get vaccinated. Then more and more people help the doctor battle for the sick girl's life. This steady progression of involvement is interesting to watch. It gives structure to the finale's events. The dog also gets much more deeply involved. The scene where he answers to his real name is electrifying. Bringing Dr. Adams in through radio broadcasts is also fascinating.

Water Works

The little girl has never seen a bath tub and has no idea how it works. She is startled by the drain. She winds up taking a bubble bath. A tub is far less elaborate than the "water works" in many Dwan films. But it is fully discussed as how it operates.

Later, Margaret Hamilton, getting an opportunity to place a nice person for a change, gives a mini-lecture on the use of straws, also new to the girl.

The centrifuge and syringes used at the finale, are also devices that manipulate fluids.


The girl is first seen with daisies between her toes: an unusual image. It does tie in with the flower imagery in Dwan. Later, a painted daisy on china leads to revelation that daisies are the girl's favorite flower.

Some Dwan films have large gifts of flowers that fill a room. The vase of daisies at the end is smaller, but it is shown in close-ups that fill the screen.

Camera Movement and Front Yard

Susan's beautiful garden is one of many front yards in Dwan. It has a white picket fence: yards are often fenced in Dwan. Such yards are often the center of long camera movements. Driftwood is a little simpler, but there are camera movements: These camera movements have stop-and-start patterns, enabling staging that supports storytelling and dialogue.

Camera Movements Introducing Locales

Dwan sometimes introduces new locales by a pan, showing their layout. In Driftwood, the first view of the drug store pans, following the hero and girl walking through it.

Soon, an elaborate start-and-stop long take, follows the hero and girl walking through the judge's clothing store.

Staging through Doors and Windows

We can see out of the big doorway at the drug store, to the sidewalk.

The judge is first seen behind his teller-like cage, at his shop. It has a window-like opening. The area is also one of the cages containing humans in Dwan.

Margaret Hamilton points her head through a window the the back of the drug store.

Near the end, the mayor and his son look through their front windows and see the girl across the street.

The gas station has glass windows. The camera looks through them to the attendant inside. It also follows him out the station, with a camera movement.

Motion and Architecture

The girl escapes from the doctor's house through the window. Such window exits and entrances are a Dwan tradition. They add drama to the story.


Dean Jagger is another Dwan hero with big boots. He also wears a leather jacket. Clearly, his country scientist is being glamorized.

The Inside Story

Financial Processes

The Inside Story (1948) is a didactic comedy-drama, about the importance of keeping money in circulation. Dwan's films are full of financial processes; The Inside Story is entirely built around one.

In addition to its central subject, The Inside Story is full of educational discussions on many financial subjects: the causes of the Depression, pricing groceries and inflation, getting credit, the US Government calling in gold in the 1930's. The film is set during the 1930's Bank Holiday, which is also discussed.

Gender Roles

Like its successor, Sands of Iwo Jima, The Inside Story has much on gender roles. The lawyer is devastated that he can no longer support his wife. The Inside Story constantly suggests that the man should accept that the times are rotten, and that his wife and other women want to contribute too. However, in fact the lawyer does not seem to learn this. He only becomes happy when his work income improves.

False Accusations

The father is terrified that he is going to be falsely accused of stealing the money: but he never actually is so accused. Dwan films are full of people who become social outcasts after false accusations. The father in The Inside Story never becomes either actually accused, or a social outcast.

Camera Movement

There is a camera movement that goes almost 360 degrees around the inn lobby. It follows the lawyer's wife through the windows as she walks outside, shows her entering, and twirls around as she crosses the lobby to the staircase. This is like a longer version, of many nice camera movements showing either people entering the lobby, or moving across it.

Outside the lawyer's home near the end, we see a garden path out front. First, lawyer Shayne and father Lockhart are in one of Dwan's symmetrical compositions, with the pair flanked by the fences on both sides of the garden gate. Soon, we have some of Dwan's "brief bursts of camera movement, following characters as they move forward or back along a corridor, stretching directly away from the camera". Shayne and Lockhart move down the path, the outdoor "corridor", the camera moves forward or back with them.

Immediately following, we see the heroine and Roscoe Karns moving along the fence. Flowers are in front of them. This is one of Dwan's tracks following characters walking through front yards or gardens. Like other such shots, it is elaborately composed, and has a rich beautiful feel.

Animals and Cage Imagery

Dwan films sometimes link animal sequences, with humans in cages. The Inside Story has a bit of both. But unlike some other Dwan films, they are not linked: Much is made of the safe. Dwan films are full of concealed hiding places. However, while the safe is certainly a hiding place, it is not concealed. Everyone can see it in the lobby. The same is true of the safety deposit boxes in the prologue and epilogue. These thus differ from the hidden safe behind the painting in Slightly Scarlet: a true Dwan concealed hiding place.

Water Works

Unlike many Dwan films, The Inside Story lacks an obvious water works. This is perhaps a function of how stripped down and low budget it is. But the film does have a finale in the Cider Cellar. This is the inn's basement, full of casks from which one can draw cider. This is perhaps a form of water works, or at least a kind of fluid (cider).


While having her picture painted, the lawyer's wife sits on a chair on an elevated platform. This recalls the platform that the Egyptian royalty st. on in Suez. She looks very aristocratic.

Window and Door Staging

The town is seen through the bank's plate glass window, in the opening scene.

Much of the film transpires in the inn lobby. We often see the street outside, through the lobby's glass door or windows. Eventually, we also see through the door in the opposite direction: from the street into the lobby.

Dwan stages many scenes through open doorways, such as the door between the lobby and restaurant. Or the door leading outside from the lobby. His camera can follow characters through such doors, a little - rarely in big sweeping moves, but in little paths.

There is not a hard-and-fast distinction in The Inside Story, between staging through open doorways, and shooting through closed glass doors. At one point late in the film, we see characters leave through the lobby open doorway. Soon we get a second shot, taken through the glass of the same door, now closed. The two shots both show the lobby interior from the street, and are filmed from similar points. They have much in common, even though one is "staging through an open doorway", and the other is "shooting through a glass door".

We also see people near the start, through windows of a bus.


The lawyer is one of many Dwan men who wear bow ties. His tie is of a striking checkerboard pattern.

His wife has an elaborate bonnet, with two long trailing pieces of cloth: an example of elaborate headgear in Dwan.

Sands of Iwo Jima

Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) is a war film. Despite having one of the few big budgets of any Dwan sound film, it lacks the elaborate mise-en-scène of many much cheaper Dwan films. It seems less elaborate visually than Abroad with Two Yanks or Calendar Girl, for instance. While some of the discussions of sexual roles and masculinity are interesting, the combat scenes are grim and depressing. It is not a film I enjoy watching.

Sexual Politics

Sands of Iwo Jima is a strange movie.

Much of the film is a talk fest, outlining differing attitudes towards masculinity. The two main antagonists, Sgt. Stryker (John Wayne) and Private Conway (John Agar), have very differing views. But the film aligns these views with character traits and behavior that today seem unusual:

So we have the anti-macho liberal who has "family values" and a macho military enthusiast who is linked to every sort of anti-heterosexual situation the screenwriters could think of. This is very different from how these types are portrayed in today's "culture wars".

The conflict between these two types is a bit like the conflict between political parties elsewhere in Dwan. The two men do represent different philosophies of life. However, neither one is part of an organized political group.

Stryker keeps trying to impress himself on Conway. One wonders if there is an element of gay courtship in his approach. Late in the film, Stryker saves Conway's life by tackling him and bringing him to the ground. This image can be seen to have a gay subtext.

Stryker's scene with the bar girl has an ambiguous construction. Going away with a bar girl to her apartment can be seen as a heterosexual act. Yet, a gay man can also visit a woman's apartment and form a friendship with her. The film does not actually show deep heterosexual desire or experience in this scene.

Some of the introductory material about the other soldiers can be interpreted as homoerotic. The soldier Regazzi (Wally Cassell) who wants to be an agent keeps rhapsodizing about the good looks of another soldier (Richard Webb), who he hopes to make a star. Regazzi will look for other men too, as a recurring comic bit.

The two brothers who keep wrestling recall the other people in Dwan films who wrestle on the ground. There is an ironic reference to "brotherly love". On the surface, this is just a derisive comment. But it also serves to open up the possibility that wrestling can have romantic or sexual undertones. Making two men with a close relationship be brothers, is also a way to put male-male relations on screen, while getting past the censor.

The Future

Conway can be considered the Life Force, and Stryker the Death Force. Conway keeps trying to plan for future life. Stryker is only interested in preparing for combat - and implicitly, death.

Conway is portrayed in a respectful and often sympathetic manner. He is shown as a brave, conscientious man who does his duty. He is emphatically not caricatured. Sands of Iwo Jima is far more sympathetic to his position and character, than accounts of the film sometimes suggest.

Conway hopes his son can take part in the life of the mind, mentioning Shakespeare. This anticipates Dwan's later High Air, and working class man William Bendix's hope that his son can become educated and work in a thinking man's profession.

A Bad Teacher

Dwan films are full of scenes where one person trains another, often in a physical activity or skill. Stryker's Basic Training of his platoon at first seems to fall into this tradition. However, the teachers in other Dwan films are genuinely helpful to their students. Stryker instead deliberately injures one of his men, when he is a slow learner. This is repulsive.


The Japanese are denounced by Stryker for their yellow skin. This is racism, and it is seriously wrong.

Unlike many World War II films, Sands of Iwo Jima does not feature a platoon of soldiers who are conspicuously from different racial groups. Many of the soldiers here instead have WASP names. There are quite a few white ethnics, but no one from a different race.

There is a conspicuous, sympathetically treated Jewish soldier. This is a good thing.

Links to The Spirit of the Flag

One of the countless early short films Dwan directed is The Spirit of the Flag (1912). This film survives and is easily seen today on the Internet. It bears some broad resemblances to Sands of Iwo Jima. Both films: These similarities might just be coincidence. They could be common aspects of many Hollywood war films, for example.


Some of the settings reflect Dwan traditions:

Enjoying Food

Dwan films often depict the enjoyment of food. Such enjoyment is usually depicted as something fairly positive. But the coffee scene in Sands of Iwo Jima is as dark as possible: enjoyment of a coffee break is shown to have sinister consequences.

A big table of cakes is in the canteen. But none of our characters is seen eating cake.

Camera Movement

There are some lateral tracks, that move down a row of men, starting and stopping along the way: Both of these are extremely somber, tense moments. A related shot: when Stryker is dispersing the soldiers at night, breaking them off in pairs of two. This is also a lateral stop-and-start track. But it follows a group of men walking, not a fixed row of motionless men, like the other two shots.

The film has two pans, introducing dance halls:

Stryker moves up a ladder on the hill containing the bunker on Tarawa beach. Dwan pans along with him. This is another Dwan camera movement, showing men moving on a slope. Dwan soon starts a second camera movement showing Stryker going back down the hill - but this is brief and rapid, and not fully a reverse of the earlier pan.

A more conventional camera movement shows Stryker and Bass walking down a sidewalk in Honolulu, after Stryker has said good night to the bar girl. Dwan likes such camera movements of characters walking down sidewalks - and so do countless other directors.

The early scene where the Marines discover Stryker drunk, is of a kind often found in Dwan. It points down a long street, with some camera movement showing men moving either forward toward the camera along the street, or away.

The Crib - and Humans as Animals

The baby is seen in a crib. The crib has vertical bars on its side, and John Wayne is photographed through them. Perhaps it is a stretch, but the crib might recall the pet animals in cages imagery elsewhere in Dwan, such as the canary in He Comes Up Smiling, the kangaroo in a wheeled cage in Abroad with Two Yanks.

The photography makes it look as if Wayne is inside the cage of the crib, just as bank teller Douglas Fairbank's work cage at the bank in He Comes Up Smiling suggested that he too was in a cage, just like the canary.

Regazzi thinks of himself as a bird, when drunk in the canteen: more of Dwan's imagery linking animals with people.

Belle Le Grand

A Mix of Genres

Belle Le Grand (1951) is a Western: most of it takes place in Colorado in 1870. But in many ways, it resembles a Dwan historical epic like Suez, more than it does a typical Western. As in Suez, the characters are people who love to build vast enterprises: in Belle Le Grand, these are mainly mines, but they also include gambling houses. The performers are usually in fancy 19th Century suits and evening clothes, also like Suez, rather than the cowboy gear of most Westerns. A possible ancestor of Belle Le Grand: Silver River (Raoul Walsh, 1948), which also deals with mining and capitalism in the Old West. Earlier, Dwan's The Commanding Officer (1915) reportedly involved men from a mining town.

Belle Le Grand is also a musical of sorts. It is full of songs by Muriel Lawrence, a gifted real-life operatic soprano who would make three of her four films with Dwan. She mainly sings "light" classical music showpieces here, and does a terrific job.

The early sections of Belle Le Grand seem to be from yet another genre of Hollywood film, the antebellum tale of the Old South. A little of this dubious genre goes a long way, and one feels relief when the action moves forward in time to 1870.


Like other Dwan works, Belle Le Grand has something of an ensemble feel. The characters often take turns, coming to the forefront of the action.

William Ching plays the hero's partner. The two are often together and very close. They recall the brothers in Chances. Both tend to be similarly dressed, in suits, evening clothes, etc - also like the brothers in Chances.


Belle Le Grand shows Dwan's fascination with large scale processes. The stock market sequence is perhaps the most ambitious in any film before L'Eclisse (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1962). Its look at a complex economic process, here the buying and selling of stock, recalls Dwan's look at the economy of money circulation in The Inside Story.

The look at 19th Century Western opera houses, the courtroom scene, and the picture of a whole mining town and its way of life, are other large scale processes in the film.

The Fence

Dwan includes an outstanding panning shot, near the start. This shows the heroine, moving through a black district. The architecture includes a long running fence. The fence recalls the massive flume in The Poisoned Flume.

The character's slow move through the front yards, contrasts with Fairbanks' mad dash through the yards of his neighborhood in A Modern Musketeer.

Multi-Level Interiors

Dwan moves the camera up and down between boxes at the opera. He also has a large staircase in the mansion.

Montana Belle

Montana Belle (1952) is a Western with a not very good story. It concerns outlaws Belle Starr, the Dalton Gang, a third group of outlaws, and people who want to capture them, all negotiating various deals, robberies, traps and double crosses. All of this is routine, and makes for a succession of episodes that have no goals or narrative drive. On the positive side, it has a few good scenes, including a well-shot finale. There is much interesting atmosphere and imagery throughout the film.

The film was reportedly shot in late 1948, but not released till 1952.

Jane Russell works as a saloon singer: another one of Dwan's woman singers. She has two good musical numbers, among the film's more enjoyable scenes.

The Dalton gang are more of Dwan's brothers.

The Finale: Depth Staging and Architecture

The finale at the bank is visually inventive. Dwan uses deep focus: we see the town outside through large windows in the bank, and through its open doorway. Action is staged both within the bank, and in the streets seen through the windows and doorway. The bank is on an angle at the corner, producing further visual complexity.

The camera takes in huge swaths of action: events inside the bank, outside in the street, on buildings across the street, including upper level balconies. Such a global view recalls Dwan's long-shot staging in The Gorilla. However, the staging in The Gorilla partly recalls its history as a stage play. By contrast, the finale of Montana Belle is "the final shoot-out of a Western", a very un-theater-like sort of film element.

Dwan creates an introduction to his scene: the shades are pulled up on the bank windows, allowing to see this complex environment for the first time. This is a bit like the curtain going up on a stage play.

The town at the end is full of red-white-and-blue bunting, celebrating the economic event of the bank having record sums of money. This anticipates the bunting celebrating the Fourth of July in Silver Lode.

Economic Processes

Like other Dwan films, Montana Belle has economic processes: These processes seem a bit simpler than in other Dwan films.

Construction and Sets

The barn near the start has a loft, with a movable ladder leading up to it, and a trap door. This is a Dwan multi-story set. The ladder is perhaps a substitute for the elevators in other Dwan. (It is possible that this "set" is actually two sets, one of the barn and the other of the loft, joined together through editing.)

A wooden bridge is over a stream. The heroine rides down the bank from the bridge.

A swing is on a tree.

Water Works

Montana Belle has some simple water works:

Small Devices

A running gag has Devine using the world's smallest lasso. He first uses it to capture shot glasses of whiskey. Then it plays a plot role later on.

The outlaw heroine's hands are manacled, at the start. These are soon removed with tools. Later, the Sheriff's office has something I've never seen in another Western: a row of manacles hanging from the wall. They play no role in the plot. Later still, Andy Devine will be tied up with a lot of rope.

There is a funny scene, in which the heroine discourages a bad guy, by sweeping dust over his feet. This perhaps recalls the sand imagery elsewhere in Dwan.

Maps and Signs

Two maps of the casino are drawn on the ground, in preparation for the Big Robbery. Both the maps and the dialogue show the position of the manager's office with the safe. When we get to the actual casino, we discover that the maps are correct: the office really is in this corner of the casino shown on the maps.

Both the casino and the blacksmith's have signs, with a drawing of an object symbolizing their business.

Symmetric Composition: Rule of Threes

Several shots have a principal object in the center, flanked by matching, less important objects on each side: Such structures appear in Art Deco architecture, where they are dubbed "the rule of threes". While Dwan's images are not exclusively architectural, they are rather similar compositionally.

In Rise and Shine, the main cheerleader is surrounded by two supporting cheerleaders on either side, giving a similar "rule of threes" effect.

Camera Movement

The camera pans with the characters, as they ride down hill through a tree covered slope. Both the tilted slope and the thin forest add visual interest. Then the camera pans back, picks up their pursuers, and then repeats the original pan, following the pursuers down the hill.

When Devine uses his tiny lasso to get the whiskey shot glass, the scene is in one long take camera movement. First we follow the shot glass being pulled along the bar, right to left. Then after the camera shows Devine, it follows the glass again, as it is slid down the bar from left to right. This shot anticipates the catfight in Woman They Almost Lynched, in which one of the women is slid down the bar as the camera follows.

The shot also follows a Hollywood convention, perhaps:

The "Gilded Lily" number also is full of path /reverse path staging. At its start, the camera moves past men at the bar. At its end, the heroine and camera move past the men, in the reverse direction.

The camera also moves in towards the heroine before she starts singing; then back out as she moves towards the audience.

In the middle of the "Gilded Lily" number, an interlude has Brady kidnapping a man at gunpoint. The camera moves with the men as they walk down a town street: a Dwan tradition.

The camera moves with the robbers, as they enter the bunting-filled town at the finale.

Overhead Shots

We see nearly straight down to the street below, showing people getting out of a wagon. Dwan soon suggests this is a Point of View shot, from a second story room looking down on the street.


Blue and Red-Orange, with a bit of Green. Trucolor films tend to emphasize "blue and orange" - at least in the way the surviving prints look: Some of these scenes have a bit of green, especially from Brent's blue-green suit.

Red and Green. There is also a scene with a red-green color scheme. In the first scene at the blacksmith's, the blacksmith has a red shirt, while much of the rest of the scene looks green. Perhaps it is bathed in a green light.

White and Blue. The first song, "The Gilded Lily", is nicely designed in a saloon with mainly white walls and many accents of blue. The white gives the scene an expansive, open, airy quality. The white background is often pinkish white, echoing Jane Russell's flesh tones.


Montana Belle is another Dwan film with a woman dressed as a man: Belle Starr in disguise as a male robber.

The blue kerchiefs worn by the robbers are more Dwan masks. The blue color symbolizes the Dalton gang. It is hard to understand why the Daltons wear an identifying color: the whole idea of masks is to conceal identity, not to proclaim it with a color! But it makes for a striking visual effect.

Woman They Almost Lynched

Woman They Almost Lynched (1953) is an exuberant Western. It is unusual in that its lead characters are women. It perhaps influenced Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954) the next year. In addition to being Westerns in which female antagonists square off, both films also have Ben Cooper as a young outlaw.

Dwan Subjects

The heroine is one of Dwan's "characters on the move".

The locals are deeply divided between the Union and the Confederacy. This is close to a Dwan favorite subject, "two parties competing for government power". These two groups are not quite political parties though: they are rival governments, not parties.

The Cat-Fight

The big cat-fight shows Dwan's vigorous staging. It has a number of powerful camera movements, which create a great feeling of energy. It also has Dwan's slightly overhead long shots, which show the whole ensemble as if on stage.


The saloon includes a high level corridor-balcony, connected by a staircase to the ground floor. Dwan's camera can move accompanying characters as they move along the corridor, then down the stairs to the ground. The set is similar to some of the boarding-house stairs in Calendar Girl. One wonders if it were actually the same set, reused from the earlier movie.

Sweethearts on Parade

Sweethearts on Parade (1953) is a musical.

I'll Go No More A Roving

"I'll Go No More A Roving" is the song sung, when the wagons roll into Kokomo. Much of the number shows an archetypal Dwan locale and technique: a setting in a front yard garden, filled with camera movement. Moving camera in front yards or gardens occur in many Dwan films.

The scene contains a path / reverse path camera movement. First we see the daughter move down the garden walk, to the fence. Then later, we see the heroine move along the path in reverse: up the walk from the fence to the porch. Both directions are filmed by Dan using camera moving. However, while the paths are reverses of each other, the camera movement techniques are different in the two shots.

The scene also contains Point Of View (POV) shots, showing the heroine from the viewpoint of men on the moving wagons. These shots too involve camera movement.

Much of the scene is in red-and-green color schemes. The vegetation is green, mixed in with flowers in various shades of red. The first hero's wagon is red-and-white; the next wagon is red-with-pale green.

The red-and-white wagon recalls the lunch wagon at the end of Stage Struck, which was also in red-and-white. However, the lunch wagon is bigger than the traveling wagons in Sweethearts on Parade. The red-and-white wagon in Sweethearts on Parade is brilliantly colored and vivid.

"I'll Go No More A Roving" is a traditional sea shanty. It is also known as "Maid of Amsterdam", according to the Wikipedia.

Silver Lode

Silver Lode (1954) is a Western. Its hero (John Payne) is one of several Dwan protagonists who are falsely accused and who become social outcasts.

The church bell tower is used to make overhead views looking down into the street, in the Dwan manner. We also see the hero high up in a window of the tower, also a favorite kind of Dwan view.

Cattle Queen of Montana

Cattle Queen of Montana (1954) is a Western. The following discussion contains SPOILERS. Please see the movie first - it has a number of unexpected plot developments.

Links to Robin Hood

Cattle Queen of Montana often resembles Robin Hood.

The depiction of Native American life recalls Medieval England in Robin Hood:

The conflicts between the Cavalry and the Federal Government on the one side, and the racist white townspeople on the other, is also a conflict of government.

Economic Processes

Like other Dwan films, Cattle Queen of Montana gives a detailed look at economic processes:

Small Towns

Cattle Queen of Montana is another Dwan film with a negative depiction of small town life. Here the townspeople are full of racial hatred and prejudice. The moving camera shots of them looking on in disgust at the Native American hero are vivid echoes of the Civil Rights era.

The townswomen also engage in vicious sexual gossip about the heroine, linked to their racial prejudice.

The men in the town are later seen to undermine the efforts of the Cavalry and the US Government to find a peaceful solution to white - Native American conflicts. These people are narrow minded, nasty, and quick to use violence, especially against other races.

False Accusations

The heroine is accused by the townspeople of sexual misconduct with the Native American hero. She is one of many Dwan heroes who are falsely accused, and who become social outcasts.

On the Move

The heroine and her father have just arrived in Montana on their cattle drive, as the picture opens.

Colorados is just back from college.

Lance Fuller

Lance Fuller gives a striking portrait of hero Colorados. He is highly articulate, and radiates nobility without self-righteousness. Fuller worked steadily, but never became a star. He regularly appeared in TV shows directed by the gifted Montgomery Pittman, including a gem of a performance as a comic rogue in the Bat Masterson episode Double Trouble in Trinidad (1959).

Lance Fuller also appears in Pearl of the South Pacific. Once more, he is playing a non-European man, one who is appealing and sympathetic.

Upper Crust Secret Villains

Dwan films often have upper class looking people who are secretly villains. In Cattle Queen of Montana, the biggest local cattle baron is full of sinister secret schemes.

And Native American faction leader Natchakoa also is involved in secret activities.

Neither of these men is quite as upper class in appearance, as are some of the bad guys in other Dwan films.

Water Works

Water and streams are everywhere in Cattle Queen of Montana. They are always flowing, visibly moving water - never still lakes. They are some of the most lyrical shots in this film, notable for its quiet, lovely views of nature.

Dwan has only a little construction involving water. We do see a small foot bridge over a stream early on.


Dwan films often contain large scale outdoor construction. Cattle Queen of Montana has a house built in a huge pit. One suspects such houses in the ground might be part of real-life Western history. The house is featured in more than one episode, as people hide in it, and pass through its rooms.

The villain's house exterior is also visually interesting. It has a porch, free-standing steps, and a cross-shaped post with a hanging triangle.

Camera Movement

Dwan likes camera movements, that follow people through front yards. Analogous shots in Cattle Queen of Montana are two pans, that show the first entrance into the Native American village. As is typical of such Dwan "yard shots", these pans are rich in spectacle showing the village. Unlike many such Dwan shots, however, the characters on the move are in the background, instead of in the foreground.


We see people standing on a porch, that is full of curved arches overhead. It makes for some pleasing compositions.

A peaked teepee roof interior, is echoed by a three-stick stand over a fire.

Zigzag ornaments on a teepee exterior are also striking.

Escape to Burma

Escape to Burma (1955) is an adventure film.

Working Women: Barbara Stanwyck

The heroine (Barbara Stanwyck) is one of the working women often featured in Allan Dwan films. She is extremely competent.

Escape to Burma follows up a similar Stanwyck role in a previous Dwan film Cattle Queen of Montana. In both films, Stanwyck runs a difficult outdoor enterprise involving lots of large domesticated animals.

The Palace: Camera Movement, Symmetry and Geometry

Escape to Burma opens with a complex but symmetrical composition, showing the throne room of the palace. Dwan loves symmetrical shots. Then the camera pulls back, moving into the throne room. This camera movement itself preserves the symmetry of the composition.

Eventually, symmetry is broken. The camera moves along one side of the room, behind the pillars. This and subsequent shots reveal that the room is octagonal. The pillars form the corners of an octagon. In addition, there is an octagon built into the center of the floor. This gives the room a "nested octagon" quality, with one octagon inside another.

Art director Van Nest Polglase will have another nested octagon set in Pearl of the South Pacific: the plaza with the statute is octagonal, and has an octagonal platform at its center around the statue.

Animals and People

The elephants are viewed as similar to human beings. They have careers, are central to the economy, have individual problems, grow old and retire. Dwan films often stress the similarities between animals and people. This film offers some of the most concrete, realistic detail. The similarity is not treated with simple-but-startling imagery, as in many Dwan films. Instead it is set forth with sociological realism.

Escape to Burma anticipates a similar sympathetic view of elephants-as-almost-people in India Matri Bhumi (Roberto Rossellini, 1959).

By contrast, the tiger is an animal that menaces people.


Costumes reflect Dwan approaches:

Pearl of the South Pacific

Pearl of the South Pacific (1955) is an adventure film.

Social Commentary

Pearl of the South Pacific is unusual, in containing a scathing attack on colonialism. Just as Westerns of the 1950's were taking a critical look at racial prejudice and a renewed positive view of Native Americans, so does Pearl of the South Pacific suggest that white exploitation of highly decent island natives is a terrible thing.

Pearl of the South Pacific looks at bad people using Christianity to achieve sinister goals. It was made the same year as Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955), which also looks at a "false prophet".

The Island: Dwan Themes

The island is governed in isolation from the rest of the world by the High Priest. Other people want to replace this isolation and rule, by "civilization" from the outside world. There are many debates in the dialogue, about the pros and cons of such a switch. In some ways, this resembles a bit the Dwan subject of conflict between two political parties who want to govern an area.

The Priest's son wants to leave the island, and see the outside world. He resembles the many Dwan characters who are dissatisfied with small town life, and want to leave it. The outside world is symbolized by a globe: this is one of several globes that appear in Dwan films.

The Priest and his son are also another of the father - son pairs in Dwan.

Pearl of the South Pacific resembles The River's Edge. Both have locales full of honest, innocent people: the island in Pearl of the South Pacific, the ranch in The River's Edge. Both of these are invaded by crooks from the outside world, who work by romancing the local inhabitants and seducing them away from their honest local partners.


Much is made in the opening conversation, about how the Dennis Morgan and Virginia Mayo characters choose to pursue money, rather than their love for each other. This is not quite one of Dwan's financial processes: it does not specify details of their money-making schemes. But it is an example of how pursing a financial goal has hurt the characters' personal lives. We soon get a negotiation between the three characters over the profits from the pearls.

The three main crooks are really corrupt. One of them is actually nicknamed "Bully". They form an adulterous trio led on by greed, like the main characters in The River's Edge.

The Secret Cave

The secret cave is reachable only through an underwater route. It is another of Dwan's secret compartments.

The pond leading to the secret cave is a complex landscape, and it is filled with water. But it is not quite one of Dwan's water works, being entirely natural, rather than man-made.

Phallic Symbols

There is a strange post on the ship, near where hero Dennis Morgan controls the ship's wheel. It has a rounded top, and two spheres on its side. It certainly looks like a phallic symbol.

The Office

The High Priest has an office, like quite a few Dwan men. His office is full of books, like the police Lieutenant's in Most Dangerous Man Alive. Both of these men are Good Guys, and one suspects their offices are symbolizing being well-read, well-informed and intelligent.

The office is far-and-away the most Western or modern looking place on the island. Everything else looks like a Hollywood version of traditional Polynesia. This symbolizes that the High Priest is indeed a Western man, an outsider who has come to settle on the island.


Dwan films often show people climbing up the sides of buildings, or up trees. The ship's cabin at the start of Pearl of the South Pacific is reached by a steep stair that is more like a ladder. The heroine is introduced, by showing her legs descending this stair.

Later, a kid on the island falls out of a tree he climbed.

Camera Movement

The camera follows hero Dennis Morgan, as he moves down the deck of the ship. This shot ends, with the villain emerging from the ship's hold. This makes a graceful finale to the shot.

Virginia Mayo moves first down the length of the ship's cabin, then back in the reverse direction across the cabin again. The camera accompanies her, in a path / reverse path camera movement.


The ship deck at the start is full of circles: the ship's wheel, portholes, a large life preserver, the strange phallic post.

The plaza on the island is octagonal. It has a octagonal platform in the middle around the statue. And the plaza as a whole is octagonal, with its boundary and shallow steps being laid out in an octagonal pattern.


The opening below decks in the ship's cabin, is mainly designed in blue and white.

When the characters go on deck, red colors are added to the mix, including red portholes and a red beam, and a pink life preserver. These reds are not pure, flaming red, but rather brick-red. Along with characters in blue, we get a red-and-blue color scheme. Characters dressed in blue, in an environment with red objects, anticipate the brief visit to the crime boss' office in Slightly Scarlet.

No Shirts

The island men (other then the High Priest) are shirtless. This includes handsome Lance Fuller, the High Priest's son George. As in other Dwan films with shirtlessness, this is designed to show off a man's physique.

Dennis Morgan usually wears a shirt. But he takes it off for a swimming scene. Lance Fuller also does a lot of swimming.

The shirtlessness echoes early Douglas Fairbanks films Dwan made. Fairbanks's bare chest in The Half-Breed and He Comes Up Smiling was linked to swimming, too.

Tennessee's Partner

Tennessee's Partner (1955) is a Western.

The Jail Break

The partners leave jail, from a window: a typical Dwan "characters exiting through a window" scene.

The window is in green-and-yellow. This is also the color scheme of two of the three buildings we see in the distance, outside in the street. The "yellow" on the left-hand building is more orange-ish, however.

The jail window swings out into the street. It recalls a door that Douglas Fairbanks swings out into an alley in He Comes Up Smiling.

Slightly Scarlet

Crime Film

Slightly Scarlet (1956) is a crime film. It is widely viewed as a "film noir in color": a movie that bears a strong resemblance to the film noir crime thrillers of the era - except for it being in color instead of black and white.

The kleptomaniac woman steals a pearl necklace. This recalls the rich woman who steals a pearl necklace for kicks in Black Sheep.

The illegal casinos recall the casinos and gambling that occasionally appear in other Dwan films.

The Opening

The opening contains a series of Dwan motifs:

Financial Processes

In the mob boss' office, we meet his accountant going over his crime empire's books. The boss praises this highly competent-sounding man as a "financial genius", and talks about his "advanced degree". This man recalls the financial expert who is the hero's friend Brewster's Millions, although that man is entirely honest and good. Both films depict finance as a complex field in which experts can make a major contribution.


Even back in 1925, Dwan's 2-color passages in Stage Struck were pretty flaming in their use of color. Dwan's interview with Peter Bogdanovich stresses that Dwan kept pushing the Technicolor man to greater extremes than said technician felt possible. Dwan loves red and white here.

The Opening: Primary Colors, plus Green. The opening has a lot of the primary colors (blue, red, yellow) in it. The reds run a series of shades: The sisters' hair, brick-reddish regions in the car interior, pink outside the car. We also see bright red credits superimposed over the images.

Boss' Office: Blue and Red. The boss's office is full of white walls, men in blue suits, and some light red furniture. One of the men wears a red tie.

The Mansion: Blue and Red, with a bit of Green. The mansion interior in Slightly Scarlet is really something else, with its vibrating red-blue color scheme. The year before, in the previous Dwan-Alton Tennessee's Partner, the jailer is in pink-and-blue clothes against blue-gray walls: a similar color scheme.

There are occasional green plants in the mansion interior, for a touch of green.

The blue-red-with-a-little-green color scheme echoes the far more common blue-orange-with-a-little-green color scheme, one popular among many directors. The blue-red approach is probably a variation on blue-orange. However, blue and orange are complementary colors, and hence a standard "recommended approach" in color design. Blue and red, by contrast, create a "vibrating effect" on the eye. They make an intensely vivid combination, one that is fun and delightful, but terribly busy and perhaps distracting. The combination is much rarer in color design.

The red-blue color scheme in the mansion sequences in Slightly Scarlet is not just a matter of the sets from art director Van Nest Polglase. It is also present in the costumes and hair of the characters. In the first main sequence, we have Arlene Dahl in a blue dress and red hair that matches the set. In the second main sequence, we have Ted de Corsia in a light blue suit, blue shirt, and red tie, that also matches the set. Even John Payne's brown suit seems to have a reddish tinge, which seems to play off all the red in the set.


We see a live television broadcast, of a political speech. The effect is a bit like looking through a window. The TV set itself looks like a window frame. Dwan loved staging through windows. This TV shot is a sort of high tech window.

The image on TV is one of Dwan's symmetric compositions. The speaker stands in the center; two people are seated on either side of him. This has a "rule of threes" effect.

The mob audience watching the speech in the crime boss' mansion are all-male, rough, tough and macho looking. By contrast, the middle-aged people seated behind the reform politician TV speaker look like "civic leaders". Three of the four are women. These are two contrasting views of society, and linked to gender. Both groups appear in group shots, that are examples of Dwan's interest in tableaux staging.

When the TV broadcast is turned off, the room plunges dramatically into darkness. Then the lights are turned on, also making a vivid moment. This recalls somewhat the screening of the film-within-the-film in Man to Man: it takes place in a darkened room in the fraternity, then the drapes are pulled open and light is let into the room. However, the lighting effects in Man to Man are somewhat different, even though they involve a room darkened for viewing, as in Slightly Scarlet.


One can see Dwan tropes in the mansion scene. The glass doors to the terrace echo all the through the window shots in Dwan.

The hidden safe reflects the hidden compartments and secret passages in Dwan.

The right-angled series of shelves over the mantel in the crime boss' office are unusual.

Path / Reverse Path Camera Movement

When Arlene Dahl and John Payne first enter the mansion, they move from right to left, with the camera following them. This shot has delightful staging, with Dahl and Payne moving at different speeds and independently, but in counterpoint. Soon, a second camera movement follows Dahl from left-to-right, back across the living room. Her path is slightly different from the first camera movement. But mainly, this is one of Dwan's paired path / reverse path pairs of camera movements.

Another path / reverse path pair: Payne first goes into his boss' office, then leaves with his boss and other men. The camera pans with Payne in both directions. It is one long take.


John Payne's bow tie is consistent with all the bow ties running through Dwan films. Payne looks good - but one suspects that bow ties were already on their way out in real life in 1956. Payne is in a bow tie because of Dwan tradition, probably. The tie also makes Payne stand out: in the crowd of similarly dressed men in his boss's office, Payne is the only one in a bow tie. It immediately makes him look different from everybody else. Payne is both the same as everyone else (similar suit) but unique (different tie).

Hold Back the Night

Hold Back the Night (1956) is a war film.

Hold Back the Night stresses the casualties the unit repeatedly suffers. It some ways, this is good: it offers a realistic view of the severe costs of war. However, Hold Back the Night is also a grim film. It can be hard to watch.

Hold Back the Night is not one of Dwan's best films. Once can easily name 25 Dwan films that are better. However Hold Back the Night also has merits. It has decent story telling and a good cast. The characters are thoughtful and meditate and comment on the situations they are in.

Links to Sands of Iwo Jima

In some ways Hold Back the Night recalls Sands of Iwo Jima. Both: However Hold Back the Night mainly lacks the intense conflicts of Sands of Iwo Jima. Most of its characters are Good Guys, who work well with each other.

Links to Raoul Walsh

Hold Back the Night stresses a theme repeatedly explored by Raoul Walsh: the importance of soldiers not leaving their wounded behind, no matter what the obstacles or cost. This theme climaxes in such Walsh films as Saskatchewan (1954) and The Naked and the Dead (1958).

The Lieutenant (played by Peter Graves) instead advocates a philosophy, in which soldiers are used to obtain wartime objectives, but who are not otherwise cared for. This anticipates the sinister General in The Naked and the Dead (Raoul Walsh, 1958), who sees his troops as simply something to be used and killed to achieve his military goals. Both films condemn these philosophies. The Naked and the Dead is more sweeping in its critique, showing this sinister philosophy as the dominant view of the generals running the war.

Links to Retreat, Hell!

Hold Back the Night deals with the real life retreat from Chosin Reservoir. In this it recalls Retreat, Hell! (Joseph H. Lewis, 1952). Both films are grim tales that focus on people getting killed: the dark, tragic side of war.


The admirable black doctor with the unit is the climax of a series of Dwan film characters, that show non-stereotyped black characters as good at their work, and thus making a contribution to society.

The respectful treatment of the Korean characters is also admirable. The big scene with the Korean schoolteacher is the culmination of this.

Please see my list of Dwan films about Minorities and Work, at the start of this article.

Screen Directors Playhouse: It's Always Sunday

It's Always Sunday (1956) is the first of Dwan's two episodes of the TV series Screen Directors Playhouse. It is a light comedy-drama, with didactic lessons. In some ways, it resembles a pilot for a situation comedy TV series, and one wonders if the filmmakers had such a possible series in mind.

Dwan Subjects

The opening shows the minister hero training various little kids in baseball. This is another example of Dwan's subject one character trains another physically.

Next, much of the comedy surrounds people's attempt to get food: here, raiding the refrigerator. This is an example of enjoyment of food in Dwan. The foods look lavish, at least in quantity, with fixings for sandwiches spread on the kitchen table. (There is a Coming Attraction for this show, at the end of George Marshall's episode Silent Partner. It shows genial chaos on the set of It's Always Sunday, which finally passes the director by, allowing Dwan to eat his sandwich! It is quite charming.)

The bulk of It's Always Sunday contains its most important Dwan subject: a financial process. Here, the process consists of "trusting other people while you lend them something". A valuable object (a car) is loaned among a circle of people. It eventually comes back to its original owner, a happy ending. The circularity of the loaning recalls the circularity of the money being passed around in The Inside Story. In The Inside Story, such circulation of money was seen as the chief way to get the economy booming, and avoid a return of the Depression. In It's Always Sunday, the lending is not linked to such an economic goal, but rather to a spiritual value and goal of "building trust".

The father loans the sports car to his son, the son loans it to the minister hero; the minister hero loans it to two bums, a very risky move; The two finally decide to return the car, but wind up passing it to an investigating policeman; the policeman gives the car back to the father. A complete circle.

Much is made of the minister being a "soft touch". The film suggests this might have short term complications - but is the right approach in the long run.

The hobos are more Dwan characters falsely accused, this time of stealing.

A Return to Dwan's 1940's Films

It's Always Sunday recalls Dwan's mid-1940's comedies:

Earth Works

The hero planting flowers in the ground, is a very small, mild example of the sand works that run through Dwan.

A Family Film - and Religion

It's Always Sunday is a warm, very clean film, focussing on a happy family. In this sense it it is a "family film". But it is not a "family film", if that term is used to describe movies where a kid is the central character. The adult minister is the hero of It's Always Sunday; his two kids are strictly supporting players. Nor does it deal with subjects of special interest to children - although it is certainly suitable viewing for all ages.

Dwan's previous family films with child protagonists, Heidi and Driftwood, also feature minister characters. In It's Always Sunday, a minister is the central protagonist. All of these ministers are Protestant, although neither theology nor denominationalism is stressed, in keeping with common Hollywood practice in the Studio era.

Reference works suggest Dwan was a Roman Catholic. But these films all have a Protestant background.


The hobo (Sheldon Leonard in a witty performance) wears a leather jacket, thus fulfilling the plot need that he is better dressed than the hero. This is not too surprising.

More unusual is the sympathetic, very poor bridegroom, who gets married in a black leather jacket.

Screen Directors Playhouse: High Air

High Air (1956) is the second of Dwan's two episodes of the TV series Screen Directors Playhouse. It is simpler and more restrained in budget and style than many of Dwan's theatrical features. But it is involving and packs a punch.


Dwan Subjects

This is another Dwan film about father-son relationships.

The subject matter, "sandhogs" building a tunnel under the Hudson River in New York City, involves many favorite Dwan subjects:

The father and son at the construction, kept reminding me of the two brothers in their war areas in Chances.

Visual Style

The shot of workers fleeing down the tunnel in the emergency is terrific. It creates a sense of panic and abandonment. They disappear into mist at the end. This anticipates a famous sequence in The Red Desert (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1964). This shot does not contain any camera movement. In a theatrical film, Dwan might have introduced a bit of camera movement, down the "long axis" of the tunnel.


One of the sandhogs is black. In 1955, this would be a pioneering bit of racial integration. It recognizes the importance of the contributions of African-Americans to labor.

William Bendix plays the lead, one of the sandhogs. Bendix was famous for his working class roles, starring in the TV series The Life of Riley. But Bendix portrayed a roughneck with an intellectual edge for Dwan in Abroad with Two Yanks. In High Air, Bendix constantly speaks up for engineering, people working with their brains, and the life of the mind.

All of the men other than Dennis Hopper are huge working class types. This includes Hal Baylor, who plays the man with the bends. Baylor often played roughnecks in Westerns. I had to laugh when Leo Gordon shows up as the supervisor. Leo Gordon was the archetypal macho tough guy, in many films and TV episodes of the 1950's. The filmmakers are really laying it on thick by casting Gordon.

Dennis Hopper's role builds on his character in Giant (George Stevens, 1955). In Giant Hopper played a young man who rejects his father's macho Texan lifestyle, and becomes a doctor instead. In High Air the question is whether Hopper should follow his father's working class job, or become an educated white collar professional: an engineer. However, in High Air this educated job is something his father supports.

The River's Edge

The River's Edge (1957) opens well. The first half hour explores interesting locales: a desert ranch, a gas station, and a Southwestern hotel. The visual style is good. The characters and their relationships are interesting too.

Then the film suddenly turns into a crime drama. The characters go on the run into the countryside, and leave all the locales of the opening behind. A depressing narrative depicts people whose lives keep getting worse and worse. The last hour is one of Dwan's least appealing films.

The River's Edge has an odd mix of genres. It is a crime thriller, but it is set in the modern day West. In this it resembles Lightning Strikes Twice (King Vidor, 1951).

Shooting Characters against Vistas

Dwan had previously brought criminal characters to the Southwest US desert in A Modern Musketeer. In both films, Dwan shoots the actors against panoramic vistas. Both include canyons in the backgrounds. People are up high on a level ground; the scenery drops away spectacularly behind them.

Characters also use rope to scale cliffs in both films.


Anthony Quinn is another Dwan good guy hero who maintains an unconventional life style that makes those who live with him uncomfortable. He lives on a primitive ranch full of do-it-yourself devices. This drives his city-bred wife crazy. The ranch is contrasted with a modern hotel, which has the conventional modern technology of city life. Quinn resembles a bit the minister hero of It's Always Sunday, whose constant charity and lack of fancy clothes are both admirable, and awkward and somewhat uncomfortable for members of his family.

Ray Milland plays another Dwan crook who masquerades as a charming member of the upper classes.

The heroine can't stand her life at the ranch, and wants to move to a glamorous city. This recalls young Fairbanks' discontent with small town life in A Modern Musketeer.

The hero of A Modern Musketeer tries to help a "woman in distress" near the beginning, who instead remains loyal to her bad boyfriend. The plot of The River's Edge is related.

Rancher Anthony Quinn enters the film riding a horse, recalling Douglas Fairbanks' skill as a horseman at the start of Robin Hood. By contrast, crooked big city slicker Ray Milland enters driving a convertible.

Harry Carey Jr. gets a chance to show off his charm in a brief modern day role, near the start. Carey plays a working class man - a garage mechanic, covered with grease. Carey seemed to get working class characters in his modern day non-Westerns: see his cameo as a cab driver in Niagara (Henry Hathaway, 1953).


The heroine wishes that there were "fun in our lives". This echoes the end of Young People, where Jack Oakie talks about happiness being the most important attitude people can have.

Water Works

The shower at the start, is perhaps an example on a small scale, of the water-works that run through Dwan. These include the giant flume in The Poisoned Flume, and the canal in Suez. Dwan was trained as an engineer, and such engineering works fascinate him.

The sand that comes out of the shower, also reflects the sand imagery elsewhere in Dwan. See the sand-diviner in Suez.

Not just the shower, but other parts of the trailer are also engineered by the husband. The oven he tinkers with, recalls the radio that has been hand-altered in The Gorilla.

The heroine's bubble bath, might be seen as a simple water works.

The gas pump used by Harry Carey Jr. is an engineering device to control fluids.

The Yards: Technical Environments

Both Harry Carey Jr.'s gas station, and Quinn's ranch, are first seen as examples of the front yards Dwan favors. They have the elaborate architectural backgrounds often seen in other Dwan yard shots. They also include pans, following Milland's car or Quinn's horse.

Both environments are technological, with gas pumps at Carey's station, and Quinn's wind-mill being conspicuous verticals.

There is not a front-yard fence in Quinn's ranch, unlike quite a few Dwan yards. But there is a fence around a corral.


The bull escapes from its corral. This is a close variant of a Dwan staple, an animal escaping from its cage. As often the case in Dwan, the animal immediately causes chaos for a human - but no real harm. Quinn gets knocked down, a bit like Shirley Temple's getting comically attacked by the goat in Heidi.

In other scenes, characters encounter threatening animals: in this desert, a scorpion and a rattlesnake. Threatening animals are less common in Dwan. There is a contrast between the sinister scorpion, and the heroine's fancy pink slipper he is on. This perhaps has comic dimensions.


Red and White. Harry Carey Jr.'s gas station is all in hues of red, brown and white. Even his red hair is coordinated. He is working on a dark red vehicle, he wears white-ish clothes, and there is a red-orange and white sign on his roof. The pink convertible both fits in, and stands out, in this color scheme.

Blue and Red-Orange, with a bit of Green. The early interiors at the shack, are in a mixture of red-orange and blue. This color scheme runs through other 1950's filmmakers, notably Vincente Minnelli, George Cukor and William Castle. Quinn's blue denim rancher outfit, with a red scarf at the throat, fits in with this scheme. So do the heroine's blue clothes, pink slippers and pink towel. There is also a small green canister on the kitchen shelf, and a small green sugar-bowl on the table. Green is frequently a supplementary shade in directors who use this color scheme.

The hotel lobby also has blue furniture, contrasted with reddish-brown wall designs, and a red-and-orange stand for the gum-ball machines. The desk clerk wears a blue sport coat. It is a strikingly geometric place, with round arched doors filled with rectangular window panels, and huge diamond-shaped decorations on the walls.

The restaurant has a blue juke-box, contrasting with lots of wood that can be considered orange-brownish.

Red and Green. The heroine's bath at the hotel is green tile. This is contrasted with her red hair.

The dance sequence at the restaurant has the couple mainly in off-white. But the background colors are red and green. There is a woman in a green dress, and a man in a green-ish shirt. Another woman dancer is in red-brown. The hero wears a red scarf. There are several red accents on background tables. The barman wears a red coat.

Later, the trailer is green on the outside. It is green-and-red inside, with blankets and Milland's red scarf adding to the color scheme, along with reddish wood. Green-and-red is also found in Minnelli and Hitchcock.

The police station has bright red touches. This contrasts with the policeman's dark green uniform. One suspects that its green color was chosen to make this color contrast.

All Gray. Dwan also uses monochrome harmonies. In the cave, Milland is shown sleeping against a gray wall, under a matching gray blanket, and with his gray case.

Most Dangerous Man Alive

Most Dangerous Man Alive (shot perhaps in 1960, released in 1961) is Allan Dwan's final film.


Most Dangerous Man Alive is a strange combination of the gangster film, the science fiction horror movie, and a super-hero movie. This is not as fun as its sounds. Both the gangsters and the horror are pretty sinister. There is little humor, human warmth or cheer in Most Dangerous Man Alive, and hardly any sympathetic characters. It's a grim tale, with only a little entertainment value.

Gangster movies made a big comeback in the early 1960's. Films like The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (Budd Boetticher, 1960) and Underworld U.S.A. (Samuel Fuller, 1961) are now considered classics.

In the science fiction plot, the blast converts the hero's body, so that it absorbs metal. He becomes a "man of steel". This recalls the comic book superhero Steel Sterling, and how his body was transformed by a vat of boiling chemicals. See Steel Sterling's origin story "The Man of Steel" (Zip Comics #1, February 1940). Later, the phrase "The Man of Steel" would be taken over and applied to Superman.

In some ways, the transformed gangster serves as a "monster". Like other monsters rampaging in 1950's sf horror films, the gangster is a destructive force created by atomic energy. Like them he is ultimately attacked by police and soldiers, mainly ineffectively until the finale.

But in other ways, the gangster is a super-hero of sorts. He has super powers, including invulnerability. And he mainly attacks other gangsters, who are really bad guys. However, he is not a true good guy, unlike genuine super-heroes. He is an odd, in-between concept.

Other Dwan films have episodes showing the characters having fantasies (The Restless Spirit, Stage Struck), dreams (Up in Mabel's Room, Brewster's Millions), or mental imagery, or briefly taking part in fantastic events, such as the historical opening of A Modern Musketeer. But Most Dangerous Man Alive is unusual in Dwan in being an out-and-out science fiction film.


Most Dangerous Man Alive suffers from script deficiencies, perhaps. It has situations, but not really a full scale story or plot. And the characters are one-note and underdeveloped. It does not show the expert characterization or storytelling of Dwan's best work.

Most Dangerous Man Alive does have consistent atmosphere. It is better visually than one might expect, from such a low budget movie. While the characters are simple, they are consistently presented.

Links to Other Dwan Films

The soldiers, police and fighting recall Sands of Iwo Jima. Explosives play a brief role in both films.

Links to Slightly Scarlet:

The science and laboratory recall Driftwood. Both films have lab animals in cages, and sinister medical events for humans. Both films have the hero in a leather jacket.

Dwan Subjects

Most Dangerous Man Alive is not as filled with Dwan subjects as many Dwan films. And some plot aspects are only tenuously linked to Dwan subjects. For example, near the start we learn a bit about the gangster protagonist's vending machine empire, and see other mobsters take over his racket. This might be linked, fairly distantly, with the Dwan subject of financial processes.

The hero has been framed on a murder charge. He escapes, and tries to prove his innocence. Dwan heroes are often falsely accused.

A trap is set for the hero, involving an electrified line powered by machines. This is perhaps one of Dwan's engineered objects.

Lt. Fisher

Policeman Lt. Fisher is as near as Most Dangerous Man Alive comes to having any sort of Representative of Good. But he is far from the film's central character. He does have an office with a huge wall full of books. Books and intellectuality were valued in science fiction films and comic books.

Still, Lt. Fisher is far less central as a character than was, say, Federal agent Peter Graves in Them! (Gordon Douglas, 1954). Unlike Peter Graves, Lt. Fisher doesn't do anything heroic, and doesn't get the girl.

Desert and Dust

Much of Most Dangerous Man Alive is set in desert-like regions: a Dwan favorite. The film was shot in Mexico.

SPOILER. The hero is turned to dust at the end. This perhaps relates to the sand works and dust in other Dwan films.

The Flame Throwers

The flame throwers at the end seem like some of Dwan's phallic symbols. The gas guns used earlier are also phallic.

Flame is rarely seen positively in earlier Dwan. Firefighters are good guys in Calendar Girl, and there are firefighting episodes in Tide of Empire, Montana Belle. There is also the sinister fiery oven in the bakery cellar in While Paris Sleeps.


Dwan films often have characters climbing up or ascending buildings, trees or cliffs. There are no elevators in Most Dangerous Man Alive. SPOILER. But there are two scenes where the hero kills people by throwing them from heights: once out of a high building window, once off a mountain at the end.

The building window looks down to the street. We see some of Dwan's overhead shots, showing the street far below.

The finale contains a landscape panorama, showing soldiers in a plain, seen from the high mountain.

Staging Through Windows

Dwan likes to stage scenes through doors or windows. We get a sinister variation on this in Most Dangerous Man Alive, when we see the hero trapped behind the unbreakable window during the blast.

The gangster mansion has a gate with fancy grillwork. Dwan likes to shoot characters through it. This is perhaps related to the scenes of humans in cages in other Dwan films - although the gate is far from being any sort of cage.

Story Construction

The hero is seen through photographic imagery: Both of the above are realistic elements within the story. They do not break the narrative surface of the film, unlike some odd story telling elements in other Dwan.

They recall the opening of Man to Man. The hero of Man to Man is first seen in a newspaper article-with-photo celebrating his athletic prowess. Soon, he is seen in a movie of him in a track meet.


It is unusual to see a Hollywood film, with the hero mainly in a black leather jacket. This is a tough jacket, full of zippers, and designed to be as macho as Marlon Brando's legendary biker jacket in The Wild One. A man gets married in a black leather jacket in Dwan's It's Always Sunday. One suspects Dwan liked this look, and wanted to use it.

The briefly seen butler is in one of Dwan's bow ties. While bow ties are common in Dwan, they are actually rare on Hollywood movie butlers. One suspects that this too is a "Dwan look".

The gangsters are all overly-dressed in ostentatiously expensive suits. Having gangsters display wealth by wearing the most expensive suits possible is a Hollywood convention.

These suits are mid-1950's Eisenhower era wear. They look very expensive. But by today's standards, they also look ugly. A man in one looks like a hood dressed up. Today, it is hard to imagine a suit like this worn by an honest businessman, however well-dressed or wealthy, or a man who wants to look good on a date. They seem to convey a feel of Las Vegas style high living and corruption. Even in the 1950's, one suspects, these suits were seen as a "gangster look", and not what the well-dressed man would wear. Related clothes: villain Brad Dexter's in 99 River Street (Phil Karlson, 1953), the protagonist's in Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich, 1955). These films show swaggering men, who have emerged from a low-life background, perhaps. Admittedly, Ralph Meeker in Kiss Me Deadly looks really sharp. This mid-1950's look was sandwiched in between two other styles for men that today look much better:

A gangster carrying information at the film's start, is in a spectacular white coat, shaped much like a trenchcoat.

The police are also in suits that really look tough. There are few "normal" people in Most Dangerous Man Alive. Everyone is part of a world of tough masculinity.

Other police are in elaborate uniforms, including Sam Browne belts. Fancy uniforms are a Dwan tradition.