barricade

Barricade (1939, Gregory Ratoff)

Barricade is a nice bit of pre-World War II propaganda, one of handful of ones supporting the Chinese government. The film lays it on rather thick, with heart-warming flag moments, frequent prayer, and reminders to the audience there are some people in the world worrying about more than a run in their stockings. Except the movie only runs around seventy minutes and it’s got nice sets and a lot of action, so the preachiness isn’t a significant problem. The biggest problem is Alice Faye, who’s tolerable maybe fifteen percent of the time. The rest… well, knowing the film only runs seventy minutes makes her scenes easier to tolerate.

It also helps almost all of her scenes are with Warner Baxter, who’s dependably fantastic. The nice production values and his leading man performance carry most of Barricade. There’s a hurried story about Baxter’s alcoholism and its effect of his job as a reporter and there’s an annoying bit about Faye being on the run for murder. Apparently, Barricade had massive, story-changing, role-excising cuts and its a good thing. The film’s a bore with interesting sets until the last half hour, when Mongolian bandits have the Americans under siege.

Ratoff shoots those sets really well and then when the action hits, he comes through even more. The scenes are tensed and paced well and Baxter’s running the show, so everything works–at least until the movie takes a break and reintroduces its silly elements. These silly moments are signaled by Faye’s return to the center stage, whether it’s her ludicrous woman-on-the-run story or her somewhat less ludicrous (by the last half hour) romance with Baxter.

Charles Winninger plays the America consul protecting Faye and Baxter, and his performance is a little more than the film deserves. While Baxter can manage the romance, comedy and action elements, Winninger is quite affecting and his scenes suggest the film has potential beyond what it’s realizing. It’s got some fine production values and–it’s like they had the sets, but shot the wrong script on them.

But whenever it’s looking too good, Faye pops up again and she brings it all back down. As a propaganda template, Barricade doesn’t really signal what would come during the war (it doesn’t end with the flag waving over the end title card), but it knows how to make the common elements work. In some ways, because the heroes are all down-and-outers (Winninger’s consul’s been forgotten by Washington), it’s a little more effective. But Faye and the script really drag it down….

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Gregory Ratoff; written by Granville Walker; director of photography, Karl Freund; edited by Jack Dennis; music by David Buttolph; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Warner Baxter (Hank Topping), Alice Faye (Emmy Jordan), Charles Winninger (Samuel J. Cady), Keye Luke (Ling), Willie Fung (Yen) and Leonid Snegoff (Boris).


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