Three Comrades


1h 40m 1938
Three Comrades

Brief Synopsis

Three life-long friends share their love for a dying woman against the turbulent backdrop of Germany between the wars.

Film Details

Genre
Romance
Drama
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Jun 3, 1938
Premiere Information
New York opening: 2 Jun 1938
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Drei Kameraden by Erich Maria Remarque (Switzerland, 1937).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 40m
Sound
Mono, Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
10 reels

Synopsis

At the end of World War I, three German soldiers, Erich Lohkamp, Otto Koster and Gottfried Lenz, have fatalistic attitudes about the future. With their only hope in their friendship, the three comrades open a taxi and auto repair business and are barely able to eke out a living. One day, to celebrate the birthday of Erich, the youngest and least cynical of the three, Otto and Gottfried drive him to a country inn where they meet Patricia Hollmann, a young aristocrat who is now impoverished. Though Patricia is worldly, she is drawn to the innocent Erich. Otto and Gottfried encourage the relationship, feeling that their love will be the group's only salvation, but Erich feels that Pat's background will keep them apart. When she invites him to the opera, they run into Herr Breuer, a wealthy man who wants to support Pat, and he invites them to a nightclub. There Erich's borrowed tuxedo starts to fall apart, after which he curtly leaves in embarassment. Later that night, Pat is waiting for him outside his apartment and the two realize that they are in love. Some time later, while Gottfried tries to convince Erich to marry Pat, despite their poverty, Otto tries to convince her to marry Erich. When he presses her for an answer, she reveals that she had been very ill and will be ill again because of her lungs. Otto convinces her that she should marry Erich, no matter how brief their happiness might be, and she finally agrees. On their honeymoon, Pat collapses as she and Erich, who does not know of her illness, are playing on the beach. When the local doctor reveals her condition to him, and says that she may die if her hemorrhaging does not stop, Erich calls Otto to find Pat's specialist, Dr. Felix Jaffe. Driving wildly through fog in his beloved roadster "Baby," Otto brings Dr. Jaffe in time to save Pat, but the doctor warns that she must go to a sanitarium no later than the middle of October. Through the summer, Otto, Erich, Gottfried and Pat are happy with one another, even though they worry about her health. The idealistic Gottfried, however, is torn between his devotion to them and his belief in the teachings of political pacifist Dr. Heinrich Becker. On the day that Pat must leave for the sanitarium, Gottfried is shot to death by thugs who are trying to kill Becker. Now faced with the loss of Gottfried as well Pat's absence, Erich and Otto sell their shop and drift through the next months, trying to find Gottfried's killer. At Christmas, Otto finally finds the murderer and shoots him in self-defense. That same night, Erich receives word from Pat that she must have an operation to collapse her lung. When Otto and Erich visit her, they learn that the operation will cost over one thousand marks, so Otto decides to sell "Baby" to pay for it. After the operation, Pat must stay very still or endanger her life. When Otto goes to see her, he admits that Gottfried is dead and that he has sold "Baby," and she tells him that their self-sacrifices for her must stop. Though he tries to encourage her to live for Erich, as Otto leaves the sanitarium, Pat walks to the window. She is seen by Erich, who reaches her in time to hear her say that she doesn't mind dying, because she has done the right thing. After Pat's funeral, Otto and Erich decide to move to South America. As they leave the cemetary, the spirits of Gottfried and Pat walk beside them.

Film Details

Genre
Romance
Drama
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Jun 3, 1938
Premiere Information
New York opening: 2 Jun 1938
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Drei Kameraden by Erich Maria Remarque (Switzerland, 1937).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 40m
Sound
Mono, Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
10 reels

Award Nominations

Best Actress

1938
Margaret Sullavan

Articles

Three Comrades


Robert Taylor's star was clearly on the rise when MGM cast him in Three Comrades (1938), an adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque's best-seller about three World War I veterans seeking fortune and romance as Hitler's Third Reich is born. Most other actors would have welcomed the high-profile picture, but Taylor actually tried to get out of it.

Taylor had become a star as the playboy-turned-surgeon in the original Magnificent Obsession (1935), but as his popularity grew, he came to resent the pretty-boy roles the studio came up with to appeal to his female fans. Nor was he happy with the growing rumors about his alleged homosexuality. It wasn't until he played an American athlete abroad in A Yank in Oxford (1938) that he began to develop a more manly image. When Louis B. Mayer assigned him to Three Comrades, Taylor said no. He wasn't comfortable playing a German and thought the script too romantic. Mayer assured him that the prestige project would help his career and promised him more manly roles, so he gave in.

Remarque's novels had been a popular source of inspiration for Hollywood since his tale of life in Germany during World War I, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), captured one of the first Oscars for Best Picture. Since Three Comrades dealt with Germany's lost generation in the years after the war, producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz assigned the screenplay to the poet laureate of America's lost generation, F. Scott Fitzgerald. But though Fitzgerald was in the first rank of American fiction writers thanks to such contemporary classics as The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night, he never mastered screenwriting. If he wasn't being replaced on projects, they were being cancelled right out from under him. Three Comrades would be his only screen credit, and at that, only about one third of his work ended up on the screen. Mankiewicz considered his dialogue too literary and his work lacking in visual sense. He tried to salvage things by assigning contract writer Edward E. Paramore, Jr., to help, but the collaboration didn't work out. Mankiewicz wound up re-writing most of the script himself, no challenge for a man who had started as a writer and would go on to win Oscars for scripting A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and All About Eve (1950).

But if Fitzgerald's experience with Three Comrades would prove to be unfortunate, the film would present a boon to another MGM newcomer. Stage star Margaret Sullavan had already made a few films, including Little Man, What Now? (1934), another treatment of the rise of Nazism with Three Comrades director Frank Borzage. Though she had just scored a major hit on Broadway in Stage Door (1937), she allowed husband and agent Leland Hayward to talk her into the security of a six-film contract with MGM. The studio wasted no time in finding the perfect role for her - Pat, the penniless aristocrat who marries Taylor only to find her poor health a growing threat to his dreams. Her performance was the chief factor in the film's positive critical reception. Writing for The New York Times, Frank Nugent said, "The word admirable is sheer understatement. Her performance is almost unendurably lovely." She won the New York Film Critics Award for Three Comrades, along with her only Oscar nomination (she lost to Bette Davis in Jezebel).

Despite glowing reviews, however, Three Comrades did not do as well at the box office as the studio had hoped. Part of the problem may have been the removal of most of the novel's political content. Under pressure from the German consulate, the studio cut references to book burnings and anti-Semitism. And although the novel covered more than a decade, from the end of World War I to the rise of the Nazi Party, the film is set in 1921, long before anybody had heard of Hitler. One of the few reviews to note this may explain the picture's poor performance at the box office. As the critic for Variety noted: "In the light of events on the continent in the past five years, the background of 1921 in Germany seems like a century ago. There is developed in the film no relation between the historical events of that period and the Reich of today. The story is dated and lacks showmanship values of current European movements." In fact, the Three Comrades that reached the screen was so politically inoffensive that it played uncut in Japan during World War II.

Producer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Director: Frank Borzage
Screenplay: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edward E. Paramore, Jr.
Based on the Novel by Erich Maria Remarque
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Paul Groesse
Music: Franz Waxman
Principal Cast: Robert Taylor (Erich Lohkamp), Margaret Sullavan (Pat Hollmann), Franchot Tone (Otto Koster), Robert Young (Gottfried Lenz), Guy Kibbee (Alfons), Lionel Atwill (Franz Breuer), Henry Hull (Dr. Heinrich Becker), George Zucco (Dr. Plauten), Charley Grapewin (Local Doctor), Monty Woolley (Dr. Jaffe), Marjorie Main (Old Woman).
BW-99m. Closed captioning.

by Frank Miller

Three Comrades

Three Comrades

Robert Taylor's star was clearly on the rise when MGM cast him in Three Comrades (1938), an adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque's best-seller about three World War I veterans seeking fortune and romance as Hitler's Third Reich is born. Most other actors would have welcomed the high-profile picture, but Taylor actually tried to get out of it. Taylor had become a star as the playboy-turned-surgeon in the original Magnificent Obsession (1935), but as his popularity grew, he came to resent the pretty-boy roles the studio came up with to appeal to his female fans. Nor was he happy with the growing rumors about his alleged homosexuality. It wasn't until he played an American athlete abroad in A Yank in Oxford (1938) that he began to develop a more manly image. When Louis B. Mayer assigned him to Three Comrades, Taylor said no. He wasn't comfortable playing a German and thought the script too romantic. Mayer assured him that the prestige project would help his career and promised him more manly roles, so he gave in. Remarque's novels had been a popular source of inspiration for Hollywood since his tale of life in Germany during World War I, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), captured one of the first Oscars for Best Picture. Since Three Comrades dealt with Germany's lost generation in the years after the war, producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz assigned the screenplay to the poet laureate of America's lost generation, F. Scott Fitzgerald. But though Fitzgerald was in the first rank of American fiction writers thanks to such contemporary classics as The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night, he never mastered screenwriting. If he wasn't being replaced on projects, they were being cancelled right out from under him. Three Comrades would be his only screen credit, and at that, only about one third of his work ended up on the screen. Mankiewicz considered his dialogue too literary and his work lacking in visual sense. He tried to salvage things by assigning contract writer Edward E. Paramore, Jr., to help, but the collaboration didn't work out. Mankiewicz wound up re-writing most of the script himself, no challenge for a man who had started as a writer and would go on to win Oscars for scripting A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and All About Eve (1950). But if Fitzgerald's experience with Three Comrades would prove to be unfortunate, the film would present a boon to another MGM newcomer. Stage star Margaret Sullavan had already made a few films, including Little Man, What Now? (1934), another treatment of the rise of Nazism with Three Comrades director Frank Borzage. Though she had just scored a major hit on Broadway in Stage Door (1937), she allowed husband and agent Leland Hayward to talk her into the security of a six-film contract with MGM. The studio wasted no time in finding the perfect role for her - Pat, the penniless aristocrat who marries Taylor only to find her poor health a growing threat to his dreams. Her performance was the chief factor in the film's positive critical reception. Writing for The New York Times, Frank Nugent said, "The word admirable is sheer understatement. Her performance is almost unendurably lovely." She won the New York Film Critics Award for Three Comrades, along with her only Oscar nomination (she lost to Bette Davis in Jezebel). Despite glowing reviews, however, Three Comrades did not do as well at the box office as the studio had hoped. Part of the problem may have been the removal of most of the novel's political content. Under pressure from the German consulate, the studio cut references to book burnings and anti-Semitism. And although the novel covered more than a decade, from the end of World War I to the rise of the Nazi Party, the film is set in 1921, long before anybody had heard of Hitler. One of the few reviews to note this may explain the picture's poor performance at the box office. As the critic for Variety noted: "In the light of events on the continent in the past five years, the background of 1921 in Germany seems like a century ago. There is developed in the film no relation between the historical events of that period and the Reich of today. The story is dated and lacks showmanship values of current European movements." In fact, the Three Comrades that reached the screen was so politically inoffensive that it played uncut in Japan during World War II. Producer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz Director: Frank Borzage Screenplay: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edward E. Paramore, Jr. Based on the Novel by Erich Maria Remarque Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Paul Groesse Music: Franz Waxman Principal Cast: Robert Taylor (Erich Lohkamp), Margaret Sullavan (Pat Hollmann), Franchot Tone (Otto Koster), Robert Young (Gottfried Lenz), Guy Kibbee (Alfons), Lionel Atwill (Franz Breuer), Henry Hull (Dr. Heinrich Becker), George Zucco (Dr. Plauten), Charley Grapewin (Local Doctor), Monty Woolley (Dr. Jaffe), Marjorie Main (Old Woman). BW-99m. Closed captioning. by Frank Miller

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

According to a news item in Hollywood Reporter on July 10, 1936, M-G-M had just bought the rights to Erich Maria Remarque's newest novel, which was called Comrades in the item. The novel was published in Switzerland under the title Drei Kameraden in 1937, and under the title Three Comrades in the United States that same year. In July 1937 it was announced that Robert Taylor, Joan Crawford and James Stewart were to star in a motion picture adaptation that was earlier to have starred Spencer Tracy and Luise Rainer. At that time, R. C. Sherriff was working on a treatment for producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Sherriff is not credited elsewhere, and the extent of his participation in the completed film has not been determined. In December 1937, Tracy, Taylor and Robert Young were announced as the male leads, then, on January 15, 1938, James Stewart was again announced as one of the stars. According to a January 17, 1938 news item, Alan Curtis and Dennis O'Keefe were both testing for "the lead" in the picture. A Hollywood Reporter news item on February 23, 1938, about two weeks after the start of production, noted that Joseph Ruttenberg was replacing Karl Freund as the photographer.
       Three Comrades was the only onscreen credit which author F. Scott Fitzgerald received for screenwriting. Comparison of the original Fitzgerald screenplay (which has been published in book form) with the released film indicates a significant number of specific changes in the story, as well as a shift to a slightly less somber mood. According to modern sources, in addition to Edward E. Paramore, who is credited as co-screenwriter on the film, M-G-M executives brought in writers David Hertz, Waldo Salt, Lawrence Hazard and Joseph L. Mankiewicz to work on the script. In the Fitzgerald original, or in revisions made by him, the setting of the film was the 1930s. There were many scenes in which Jews appeared and in which the issue of anti-Semitism figured prominently. In addition, Nazi brutalities were portrayed or alluded to, and the character of Dr. Becker was more prominent.
       According to information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, many of the changes between the original script and the final one were requested by the Hays Office before approval was granted. Major changes were specifically required in the following areas: some lines of dialogue and situations that were considered too suggestive had to be toned down; no use of the Nazi emblem or mention of specific German leaders were to be used; a scene in which a book-burning takes place had to be removed; a "We are Jews" speech delivered by the character Dr. Becker was to be deleted; some additional lines of dialogue, situations and character names concerning Jews were to be deleted; when character Otto Koster kills the man who murdered the character Gottfried Lenz, care was to be taken to indicate that the killing was in self-defense, and Koster was not to "empty his Luger into the murderer's body." Additionally, suggestions were made to change the setting of the film from the 1930s to two or three years after the end of World War I. According to a January 27, 1938 letter sent to Louis B. Mayer by Joseph I. Breen, PCA director, the Hays Office suggested, "It might be better to make the Communists the 'Heavies'...do not indicate by emblem [Swastika] or uniforms that the period is other than following the war." Another suggestion offered by Breen was to delete a reference to Felix Mendelssohn. [The music of composer Mendelssohn, who was Jewish, was banned in Germany under the Nazi regime.]
       An article appeared in the magazine New Masses on February 15, 1938, a few days after the start of the film's production, entitled "Off-Color Remarque," in which the author charged that Breen, the head of the Legion of Decency and the German Consul General, Dr. George Gyssling, had met to discuss the film and decided among themselves what changes should be made in the story to make it less of an indictment against Nazi Germany than Remarque's original novel. The earliest letter in the MPAA/PCA file from Gyssling to Breen is dated May 28, 1937. In that letter, Gyssling inquired about the film adaptation, but Breen replied that the script had "not been submitted to us." No information in the file refers to any meetings between Breen and Gyssling, or between either of them and the local head of the Legion of Decency, concerning the film. On January 22, 1938, after the final script has been approved, Breen wrote to M-G-M: "The story, while dramatically sound and entertaining, is, inescapably, a serious indictment of the German nation and people and is certainly to be violently resisted by the present government in that country." When the film was released, most territories approved it without eliminations, according to the file, although Germany raised objections to the use of drums and those scenes were shortened. Margaret Sullavan received an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress for the film, but lost to Bette Davis for Jezebel. Trade reviews had negative comments about the released film. The Hollywood Reporter reviewer called it "a combination of the magnificent and the deeply disappointing," and the Variety reviewer said, "There must have been some reason for making this picture, but it certainly isn't in the cause of entertainment....despite all the draught of the star names, it's in for a sharp nosedive at the box office."

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1938

Photography was begun by Karl Freund, but completed by Joseph Ruttenberg.

Released in United States 1938