Spencer Tracy is one of those actors that exemplifies what a movie star is and the kind of energy they project. The man just exuded a certain power and charisma whether it be subtly there or hugely obvious depending on the role. For me, the definition of a movie star is someone that you can't help but pay attention to when you're watching a film. Tracy had that. He grew into it more as he got older, but he always has a certain "pop" to him even in his early works.
THE MURDER MAN (1935; Tim Whelan)
The press room in this movie (which reminded me of the press room in HIS GIRL FRIDAY) has a few familiar faces. James Stewart plays "Shorty" and William Demarest is there too doing his Demarest thing (which I love). Spencer Tracy plays Steve Gray aka "The Murder Man" as he's the guy who covers all the murders for his paler The Daily Star. He's a big drinker and known to be found in odd places in the morning after a decent bender. When Steve gets caught up in the case of the murder of a very prominent rich fella, it turns out to be a little more complicated than he first figured. This movie had a couple moments with Tracy that reminded me of a kind of reverse ACE IN THE HOLE. Tracy's character builds up some notoriety on this murder case and the fact that his testimony is part of what gets the guy sentenced to the chair. Then he has some understandable regret about the whole thing. It just made me think of Kirk Douglas' character in ACE and how he wouldn't have had nearly as much remorse about the situation. The two characters are diametrically opposed. Or at least that's what I was thinking until this movie ended. It's a tight 68 minute feature with some unexpected turns. Having Spencer Tracy in your pacey little procedural is certainly never a bad thing either. Good movie.
This feels a bit like the 1937 version of FULL METAL JACKET (at first). It's obviously much lighter in tone, but you can still kind of feel how it might have felt to see it back than and to see the type of training exercises and endurance training of the soldiers of that time. This go-round, Spencer Tracy has Franchot Tone to play off of. Tone is an interesting and effective choice to play the soldier whose mind becomes hardened and twisted a bit by the military training and the pure hell of battle. He's got a personality and disposition that seems to have landed him in a lot more comedic or light dramatic roles, and that semi-cherubic nature works well in contrast here. But just when Franchot Tone seems on the path to finding his "1000 yard stare", the story takes a turn into romance territory. It's an interesting if a bit conventional (and ultimately sad) turn.The neatest thing about the film is the different places it goes plotwise. It's kind of like three movies in one, which is pretty fun. The third act is the best and most interesting. They used pack a lot more into their movies way back then and this goes even above and beyond that.