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When a Man's a Man1935

  • 3.7
Playboy Larry Knight (George O'Brien) is a city fella woken up by creditors confiscating the bed he's laying on, practically the last thing he's got left after frittering away his inheritance. Heading west to start from scratch, he chances upon a rodeo and befriends amiable ranch foreman Phil (Paul Kelly) who offers him a job as cowhand. Immediately, Larry is caught up in intrigue, not just as Phil's guilt-plagued rival for the affections of pretty Miss Kitty (Dorothy Wilson) but also as a guy clever enough to help them outwit the neighbor (career villain Harry Woods) who is forcing the ranch out of business. This is the rare western that succeeds despite giving that genre's usual selling-points short shrift; there is really no physical action until the suspenseful last reel. Instead, director Edward Cline (best known as W.C. Fields' favorite behind-the-camera collaborator) lets the very pleasant leading players take over. Known as "The Chest" for his exceptional physique, O'Brien was a champion amateur boxer, stunt-man and bit-part player suddenly boosted to stardom in 1924 thanks to his role in John Ford's THE IRON MAN; three years later, he starred in another silent classic (and arguably in his most memorable role) as "The Man" in F.W. Murnau's SUNRISE. After "talkies" arrived, he spent the 1930s making numerous "B" westerns like this one. Popular 1930s ingénue Wilson quit movies for a real ranch life just two years later, saying later that she'd never really enjoyed acting or Hollywood. In another odd overlap between on- and off-screen life, handsome Broadway/Hollywood actor Kelly had notoriously been embroiled in a love triangle far uglier than this film's fictive one: he spent time in prison for manslaughter after a fistfight resulted in the 1927 death of his then-girlfriend's wife-beating, alcoholic husband. After his release, they married (though, sadly, Dorothy Mackaye, also a successful actress, died in an automobile accident in 1940). - Dennis Harvey

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