Friday, June 01, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Steel Against the Sky (1941)

STEEL AGAINST THE SKY is an extremely lightweight Warner Bros. "B" film. Perhaps that's an ironic description for a film about steelworkers, but there certainly isn't much to the plot.

Rocky Evans (Lloyd Nolan) is the eldest son in a family of steelworkers headed by Pop (Edward Ellis). Rocky's youngest brother Chuck (Craig Stevens) initially fancies get rich quick moneymaking schemes, but he shapes up and gets a job working on a bridge when he meets the lovely Helen (Alexis Smith). The only problem is that Rocky had his eye on Helen first, which leads to deep family divisions.

The first half of this film is especially weak, due to so-called comedy sequences involving Chuck and the Professor (Walter Catlett), an inventor. The Professor is a completely annoying character, and Chuck's involvement with him makes Chuck look pretty silly.

The second half of this 67-minute film is stronger, when the plot turns to romance and conflict, but it's still pretty thin soup. Chuck's father is unfair to Helen, blaming her for breaking up the family because she fell in love with Chuck instead of Rocky.

In addition, given that I have issues with heights, I can't say I enjoyed watching the characters clamber around high atop a bridge, even knowing full well that the actors weren't really that far up! The climbing heroics during the climactic blizzard are not only nerve-wracking to watch, they're so unbelievable the film is almost funny. I couldn't help thinking throughout the film how horrified modern-day OSHA inspectors would be at the working conditions...

That said, the movie does have its compensations, with the No. 1 pleasure being watching 23-year-old Craig Stevens and 20-year-old Alexis Smith carrying on a torrid romance, three years before they wed in real life. Stevens and Smith were married for nearly 49 years, until she passed on in 1993. Stevens and Smith have a couple of charming scenes with good dialogue and real chemistry.  Fans of either of these actors will definitely want to check out the movie.

It's also fun to spot Jackie Gleason as a tipsy diner patron and John Ridgely, one of my favorite members of the WB stock company, as a policeman who wants to ticket Smith. Frank Faylen can be spotted as a diner customer, and Julie Bishop is the waitress. Rocky and Chuck's brother Pete is played by Edward Brophy, and Helen's father is Gene Lockhart.

The opening credits sequence, with names on steel beams, is quite striking, followed by some interesting documentary footate of real-life steelworkers. It's too bad the film didn't measure up to its opening!

The director was A. Edward Sutherland.

This movie isn't available on DVD or VHS, but it can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is available at the TCM website:

For another take on the film, check out a review by writer Wayne Dundee. As he points out, STEEL AGAINST THE SKY is a reworking of an older Warner Bros. film, THE IRISH IN US (1935), which had Pat O'Brien, James Cagney, and Olivia de Havilland in the Nolan, Stevens, and Smith roles.


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