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Warner Bros., the studio most concerned with working-class characters in the Depression era, turned its attention to the hazardous career of power-company linemen in director Ray Enright's Slim (1937). Henry Fonda, in his first role for Warners, plays a gangly young farm worker hired by hard-boiled crew leader Pat O'Brien to work on high-tension power lines. In the tradition of Warners buddy movies, the two love the same woman (husky-voiced Margaret Lindsay), and the problem is resolved through melodramatic action.
The formula already had been established in films O'Brien made with James Cagney, and the plot of Slim is strikingly similar to Tiger Shark (1932), starring Edward G. Robinson as a tuna fisherman whose best friend falls for his girlfriend. But, in Slim, Fonda adds something new with the rough-hewn idealism that would find its most vivid expression three years later in The Grapes of Wrath (1940).
Enright's handling of the material impressed The New York Times critic Frank S. Nugent, who wrote, "The very romanticization of the genus lineman raises Slim above mere melodramatic classification. For the picture does grope toward the major truth that there is a nobility inherent in labor from which sparks may be struck and take lodging in the soul of even an ordinary little man. The narrative flashes along dramatically, treating in a series of heart-pounding sequences the successive stages of the lad's apprenticeship, his first trip up a skeleton steel tower, his increased mastery of the rueful art of defying the laws of gravity, and building tensely to a tragic and somehow inspiring climax."
Jane Wyman, near the beginning of her 10-year Warner Bros. apprenticeship, was still considered "window dressing" by the studio at the time of Slim. Her breakthrough role as a dramatic actress came at Paramount in The Lost Weekend (1945), but she would return to Warners in triumph with her Oscar-winning role in Johnny Belinda (1948). Enright directed Wyman in five other films, but Slim marked the only occasion in which Wyman and Fonda, who would surely have made a winning co-starring team, appeared in the same movie.
Producer: Hal B. Wallis
Director: Ray Enright
Screenplay: William Wister Haines
Art Direction: Ted Smith
Cinematography: Sidney Hickox
Costume Design: Howard Shoup
Editing: Owen Marks
Original Music: Max Steiner
Principal Cast: Pat O'Brien (Red Blayd), Henry Fonda (Slim), Stuart Erwin (Stumpy), Margaret Lindsay (Cally), J. Farrell MacDonald (Pop), Dick Purcell (Tom), Jane Wyman (Stumpy's Girl).
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.by Roger Fristoe