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Stand Up and Fight (1939) could almost have been a memo from studio heads to Robert Taylor about the direction of his career. Since his filmdebut in 1934, Taylor had been MGM's pretty boy leading man, most popular with female audiences in such romances as The Gorgeous Hussy (1936) with Joan Crawford, Camille (1936) opposite Greta Garbo, PersonalProperty (1937) with Jean Harlow, and This Is My Affair (1937), which also starred his soon-to-be wife, Barbara Stanwyck. In 1938, however,the studio put him into a boxing film, The Crowd Roars, and itproved to be a boost for the new virile image they wanted for him. To keep themomentum going, they next cast Taylor opposite rough, gruff Wallace Beery in thisWestern about the railroad-versus-stagecoach conflict, with some slave trading thrownin to give the battling leads something to unite against. The plot, however, is merely an excuse for several knock-down-drag-out brawls that show Taylor in greatfighting shape.
The action scenes were so realistic in fact that female fans became alarmed. Theycould not understand how Taylor managed to take so many blows and not damage hishandsome face. The studio, of course, reassured them that everything was carefullychoreographed so that no punch ever actually landed. Taylor told friends the skillto pull punches just a fraction from someone's nose was even greater than that neededfor being a successful boxer, and he was very grateful Beery and others learned their lessons well.
This was Taylor and Beery's second film together. When they appeared in WestPoint of the Air (1935), Taylor was little more than a bit player. InStand Up and Fight, Beery still got top billing, but Taylor wasevery bit his box office equal and very soon eclipsed his co-star. Although Beerycontinued to work until his death in 1949, he slowly slipped from leading actor to supporting player, while Taylor remained one of MGM's top male stars well intothe 1950s.
The large cast features a number of well-known character actors, including HelenBroderick, best known for comic roles, among them a couple of appearances in FredAstaire-Ginger Rogers movies. She was the mother of Broderick Crawford, the Academy Award-winning Best Actor for All the King's Men (1949).
The screenplay came from a couple of unlikely sources. Co-author Jane Murfin pennedseveral Katharine Hepburn films, including the screen adaptation of Booth Tarkington'snovel Alice Adams (1935). She also adapted Clare Boothe Luce'sall-female play, The Women (1939). James M. Cain, on the otherhand, was best known for gritty urban crime thrillers. His novels adapted for thescreen include Double Indemnity (1944), Mildred Pierce(1945) and The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946).
Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Producer: Mervyn LeRoy
Screenplay: James M. Cain, Jane Murfin, Harvey Fergusson
Cinematography: Leonard Smith
Editing: Frank Sullivan
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Original Music: William Axt
Cast: Robert Taylor (Blake Cantrell), Wallace Beery (Captain Boss Strakey), FlorenceRice (Susan Griffith), Helen Broderick (Aunt Mandy Griffith), Charles Bickford (Mr.Arnold), Barton MacLane (Mr. Crowder).
BW-97m. Closed captioning.
by Rob Nixon