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King Vidor once wrote that "My three big themes were war, wheat and steel." The producer-writer-director had dealt with "war" in The Big Parade (1925) and with "wheat" in Our Daily Bread (1934). He finally turned to "steel" with An American Romance (1944), a $3-million MGM Technicolor epic with the theme of immigrants progressing with the industrial expansion of the U.S. Vidor wrote that he devoted three years of his life to this ambitious overview of "the processes of iron mining, the production of steel, the manufacture of automobiles and the fabrication of four-engined bombers."
The personal side of An American Romance focuses on Stefan Dangos (Brian Donlevy), an eager Czech immigrant who arrives in the New World shortly after the turn of the century and makes his name in the steel industry. Despite his sympathy for his workers, Dangos resists their efforts to form a union. When a strike forces Dangos' company to accede to the workers' wishes, he retires from his business -- but returns in the World War II era to oversee the production of bombers necessary for America's victory.
Vidor had envisioned Spencer Tracy in the role eventually played by Donlevy, but An American Romance was so long in pre-production that Tracy moved on to other projects. Ingrid Bergman -- Vidor's first choice to play the immigrant's wife -- was similarly unavailable, and the role went to Ann Richards, an MGM contract player from Australia. Further complications arose due to the fact that no passenger car assembly lines were in operation during the war. Vidor's workmen were forced to borrow new cars from the Chrysler Company, disassemble them and then put the parts back together in a simulated assembly line. The aircraft assembly line was first built and photographed in miniature, but looked so unreal that this episode had to be reshot in an actual factory.
Vidor recalled that, when his epic was previewed, MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer "put his arm around my shoulders and said, "I've just seen the greatest picture our company has ever made. " However, the studio later ordered extensive re-editing that Vidor felt emphasized the technological side of the story at the expense of the personal drama. Perhaps because Donlevy and Richards had so little box-office luster, An American Romance never reached the audience Vidor felt it deserved. The director's disappointment was so severe that he packed up all of his belongings and moved out of his office at MGM.
Producer/Director: King Vidor
Screenplay: Herbert Dalmas, William Ludwig, from story by King Vidor
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Original Music: Louis Gruenberg
Editing: Conrad A. Nervig
Costume Design: Irene
Principal Cast: Brian Donlevy (Stefan Dangos), Ann Richards (Anna O'Rourke), Walter Abel (Howard Clinton), John Qualen (Anton Dubechek), Horace (Stephen) McNally (Theodore Roosevelt "Teddy" Dangos).
BW-121m. Closed captioning.
by Roger Fristoe