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A Man to Remember

A Man to Remember(1938)

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A Man to Remember (1938)

The critically acclaimed Garson Kanin/Dalton Trumbo collaboration A Man to Remember, a remake of One Man's Journey (1933), is one of six RKO films of the 1930s previously thought "lost" but rediscovered and restored by TCM. The films were sold out of the RKO library to producer Merian C. Cooper in 1946 and until now have not been part of the Turner collection. Extensive legal negotiations and a thorough search of the world's film archives allowed TCM to claim the films and create new, fine-grain 35mm prints in association with the Library of Congress and the BYU Motion Picture Archive.

A Man to Remember has not been seen since its original theatrical release in 1938. It was not part of the television package involving the other five "lost" RKO films that allowed them to be seen on television during the late 1950s. The only surviving copy of this film was a 35mm original nitrate, Dutch-subtitled, English-language print, which was preserved by the Netherlands Filmmuseum in 2000. The film was released in The Netherlands under the title De Plattelands Dokter (The Country Doctor, which had been its original working title in English).

The Dalton Trumbo script is told in flashbacks from the funeral of a small-town general practitioner, Dr. Abbott (Edward Ellis). Beginning in the World War I era, he selflessly tends the citizens of his town of Westport for decades, often accepting partial payments or sacks of potatoes and other goods in exchange for services. With precious little appreciation, he sacrifices career advancement and his own well-being for the welfare of his patients, fighting a deadly polio epidemic, adopting the baby of a mother who dies in childbirth and helping the town get a hospital. Meanwhile his son (Lee Bowman) is inspired to follow in his father's footsteps. In his final days, Dr. Abbott is at last recognized as a humanitarian and a genuine American hero.

The structure of Trumbo's script -- episodic flashbacks from the central character's funeral -- was his own creation and not used in the original screenplay for One Man's Journey. While this may not have been the first time such a device was used in cinema, it is significant in that it anticipates by three years the structure of Orson Welles' hugely influential Citizen Kane (1941), filmed at the same studio.

This is one of those rare remakes generally considered superior to the original. Although considered a "B" movie by its studio and shot, according to Kanin, in 15 days on a budget of only $84,000, A Man to Remember received extraordinary critical praise. The New York Times named it as one of the years ten best films. The newspaper's critic Frank S. Nugent (later to become a noted screenwriter) called it "a distinguished and unusual film, for the qualities which distinguish it are merely such elements as simplicity, honesty dignity and human warmth -- elements which properly should be found in every film drama, yet so rarely are."

A Man to Remember marked Kanin's debut as a film director; among his other directorial credits were They Knew What They Wanted (1940), My Favorite Wife (1940) and Bachelor Mother (1939). With wife Ruth Gordon, Kanin was Oscar®-nominated for the original screenplays of A Double Life (1947), Adam's Rib (1949) and Pat and Mike (1952).

Trumbo began writing scripts for various Hollywood studios in 1936 and was Oscar®-nominated for Kitty Foyle (1940). In 1947, as one of the "Hollywood Ten," he was sentenced to a jail term for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Commission. Although blacklisted by the film industry, he continued to write scripts under "fronts," winning Oscar®s under other names for his screenplays for Roman Holiday (1953) and The Brave One (1957). Beginning with Spartacus (1960) Trumbo at last was again able to write under his own name.

Ellis, a performer since his childhood, was a character actor who enjoyed plum parts in such films as I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932), Winterset and Fury (both 1936). His claim to fame was playing the title role -- the man whose disappearance William Powell is investigating, not Powell himself -- in MGM's The Thin Man (1934). Ellis' rare star turn in A Man to Remember, was described by Nugent as "splendid." Also garnering praise were Granville Bates, Harlan Briggs, Frank M. Thomas and Anne Shirley, who received star billing for her role as the adopted baby grown up.

"A Man to Remember had gone out and garnered some fantastic reviews," Kanin said in an interview. "They pulled it back and looked at it at the studio -- they had never seen it - and booked it into the enormous Rivoli Theater in New York - astonishing!"

Producers: Lee S. Marcus (Executive Producer), Robert Sisk
Director: Garson Kanin
Screenplay: Dalton Trumbo, from screenplay by Lester Cohen, Arthur Kober, Samuel Ornitz, and story by Katharine Haviland-Taylor
Cinematography: J. Roy Hunt
Film Editing: Jack Hively
Original Music: Roy Webb
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Costume Design: Reni
Cast: Edward Ellis (John Abbott), Anne Shirley (Jean), Lee Bowman (Dick Abbott), William Henry (Howard Sykes), Granville Bates (George Sykes), Harlan Briggs (Homer Ramsey), Frank M. Thomas (Jode Harkness), Charles Halton (Perkins), John Wray (Johnson), Dickie Jones (Dick Abbott as a child).
BW-78m. Closed captioning.

by Roger Fristoe

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