powered by AFI
Gentlemen Are Born (1934) is a deeply affecting, surprisingly honest film about the difficult path four young men take after college graduation. The film doesn't pull any punches in showing how hard times impact the lives of its characters in a film about the Great Depression with a great deal of resonance in today's economic climate.
A jovial group of four buddies led by aspiring journalist Bob Bailey (Franchot Tone) on varying career paths head to the big city post-graduation to seek their fortunes. Aspiring journalist Bob starts at the very bottom as a freelance newspaper reporter but soon distinguishes himself in his field and wins the affection of pretty socialite Joan Harper (Margaret Lindsay), sister of Bob's best friend Fred (Robert Light). Joan's relationship with Bob infuriates her mother Mrs. Harper (Marjorie Gateson) who sees him as socially inferior to her daughter. Smudge Casey (Nick Foran) is the amiable jock of the group whose all-star football career in college has made him certain he can secure a job as a coach. Instead, the luckless, lovable Smudge is pushed into a dispiriting and ruinous career as a penny-ante boxer getting beat up for a living until he is pushed into committing a disastrous crime. He falls in love with librarian Susan Merrill (Ann Dvorak), who does her best to support and encourage the hard-luck former athlete. But Susan faces her own tribulations when she is abruptly fired from her library job because of her marriage to Smudge and the library's policy of reserving jobs for single women. Fred Harper, who worships his stockbroker father, enters the family business but finds shame and horror when his father is implicated in bad business practices and jumps from a high-rise window. Tom Martin (Ross Alexander) is the fourth friend in the group with the simple ambition of domestic bliss with his long-time sweetheart Trudy Talbot (Jean Muir).
Graced with winning performances and a gritty theme, Gentlemen Are Born was nevertheless found wanting by The New York Times critic Andre Sennwald who found the film's aspirations bigger than its outcome, noting "Gentlemen Are Born has the ineffectual air of a drama which has bit off more than it is prepared to chew."
Cinema historian William K. Everson, according to writer Hal Erickson, had a better bead on the film calling Gentlemen Are Born a precursor to Mary McCarthy's influential, best-selling 1963 novel The Group which detailed the lives--both personal and professional--of eight female friends following their graduation from Vassar College.
Gentlemen Are Born was directed by the prolific Alfred E. Green who rose through the ranks in Hollywood from actor to assistant director to Colin Campbell (The Garden of Allah, 1916) to feature director on a variety of diverse projects. Though he was mostly known for routine fare, Green distinguished himself by directing Bette Davis in her Academy Award winning performance in Dangerous (1935) one year after Gentlemen Are Born and enjoyed another critical and commercial win with The Jolson Story (1946).
The daughter of silent movie actress Anna Lehr and director Edwin McKim, Ann Dvorak began in show business as an assistant dance instructor in MGM musicals. Her father disappeared following a divorce when Ann was a child and did not resurface until a national publicity campaign reunited the father and daughter in 1934. Dvorak appeared most notably in Howard Hawks' Scarface (1932) beside Paul Muni when the actress was just 19, a role for which she reportedly made $250 a week. Often at odds with her Warner Brothers employers over salary issues and inferior roles, Dvorak attempted to end her contract with the studio when she found out that the child actor who played her son in Three on a Match (1932) -- also starring Bette Davis and Joan Blondell -- was paid the same fee as Dvorak. Dvorak finally left Warner in 1936 after a long battle with the studio over her casting in second-tier productions. Dvorak eventually migrated to Britain with her husband, actor Leslie Fenton, who she met on the set of the Michael Curtiz film The Strange Love of Molly Louvain (1932). She made several films in Britain and contributed to the war effort as an ambulance driver, a newspaper columnist and a BBC broadcaster.
Director: Alfred E. Green
Producer: Edward Chodorov
Screenplay: Adapted by Robert Lee Johnson and Eugene Solow from a story by Robert Lee Johnson.
Cinematography: James Van Trees
Music: Heinz Roemheld
Cast: Bob Bailey (Franchot Tone), Trudy Talbot (Jean Muir), Joan Harper (Margaret Lindsay), Susan Merrill (Ann Dvorak), Tom Martin (Ross Alexander), Smudge Casey (Dick Foran, as Nick Foran), Stephen Hornblow (Charles Starrett), Editor (Russell Hicks), Fred Harper (Robert Light), Martinson (Addison Richards), Mr. Harper (Henry O'Neill), Mr. Gillespie (Arthur Aylesworth), Mrs. Harper (Marjorie Gateson), Al (Bradley Page).
by Felicia Feaster