Friday, July 19, 2019

Tonight's Movie: The Man Who Found Himself (1937) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

John Beal and Joan Fontaine star in THE MAN WHO FOUND HIMSELF (1937), an RKO "B" movie recently released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

John Beal plays James Stanton Jr., a doctor who's a little too fast and loose when it comes to piloting his private plane. When Jim flies in poor weather and an accident causes the death of a friend (Diana Gibson), Jim is unfairly accused of having been involved in an affair with the dead woman.

Jim is disciplined by the medical board for his supposed lapse in ethics and judgment, but perhaps even worse for Jim is realizing that his father (George Irving) believes the worst of him. When Jim's fiancee Barbara (Jane Walsh) rejects Jim's plan to leave Park Avenue medicine to become a country doctor, Jim turns his back on medicine and hops a train for California, where an old friend (Phillip Huston) gets him a job as an airplane mechanic.

Jim meets Doris (Joan Fontaine), a nurse who works on an air ambulance at Jim's company, and she's intrigued by the untalkative man with a mysterious past. In short order Doris realizes that Jim is a pilot, and shortly after that he inadvertently discloses his medical skills during a crisis situation. Doris, who's increasingly interested in Jim, becomes determined to restore him to his work as a physician.

I first saw this film in 2012 and quite enjoyed revisiting it. It's a fast-paced 67 minutes, and any tendency the film has toward the improbable -- plane and train crashes! doctor turned hobo! -- is overcome by the sincere performances of Beal and Fontaine.

Once Fontaine enters the film she has a large role and she's really quite good, upbeat, fun, and also cagey when she needs to be. I loved small lighthearted moments such as Doris sharing coffee and donuts with Jim. This was just Fontaine's fourth film, and she quickly moved onward and upward, winning the Best Actress Oscar just four years later for SUSPICION (1941).

Beal is likewise very good. In the wrong hands the viewer could easily lose interest in his character, finding his reactions childish, but Beal skillfully shapes his performance so that the audience feels the regret underlying his actions. As a side note, over a decade later Beal did a wonderful job narrating some classic Disney Americana, SO DEAR TO MY HEART (1948).

I also enjoyed Jane Walsh as Jim's fiancee. Walsh had been a child actress in a couple of silent films, and this was her first adult role; she appeared in three features and a short in 1937 and left the screen for good. I liked the way she was brought back in late in the film and, now engaged to someone else (George Meeker), she agrees to do what she can to help Doris in her quest to turn Jim's life around.

Look for a number of familiar character faces in supporting roles, including Jonathan Hale, Stanley Andrews, Frank M. Thomas, Billy Gilbert, and Edward Gargan.

The staging and the personalities make the film sing, even if the script (the combined work of four writers) isn't much more than ordinary. The movie was directed by Lew Landers, whom I've found particularly skilled at turning "B" films into better-than-average entertainment.

I've reviewed more than two dozen films directed by Landers, many of which are linked at the end of my review of BLIND ALIBI (1938). One of Landers' best was FLIGHT FROM GLORY (1937), a Warner Archive release I reviewed last year, and I'm thrilled that another favorite, DOUBLE DANGER (1938), will be released on DVD by the Warner Archive at the end of this month.

THE MAN WHO FOUND HIMSELF was photographed by J. Roy Hunt.

The Warner Archive print is very good, with some scenes looking especially sharp. I was quite happy with the quality of this print.

There are no extras on the disc.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

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