Of 500 feature pictures made by Hollywood each year, about 20% are always "Westerns." Most of these, turned out wholesale by minor studios to fill in the second half of double bills in U. S. rural theatres, are not good enough for grownups. Nonetheless, its scenery, its legends and its way of life make the U. S. Far West ideal cinematerial. Last week cinemaddicts were reminded of this fact by the release of two new "Westerns" which, made with high-grade casts and traditional respect for their subject, were each, in different ways, notable.
Let Freedom Ring (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer). Latest Hollywood discovery in box-office lures is the value of Americanism. Flag-waving of the George Cohan variety has always been a box-office standby, but the cinema's new patriotism goes deeper into the last refuge. It stems from: i) a sudden awareness that in failing to capitalize the forces which produced the New Deal, John L. Lewis and the Wagner Act, the cinema has missed a golden opportunity; and 2) the general eagerness of producers to forestall a wave of U. S. antiSemitism, which they greatly dread.
Let Freedom Ring offers a story of the sort which has always been traditional for all Westerns. The stirrings of Hollywood's social consciousness are indicated by the fact that the villain whom the hero (Nelson Eddy) routs is not a cattle rustler nor a bandit but a rapacious railroad owner (Edward Arnold), who is trying to hornswoggle sturdy ranchers out of their land. Thus, while conforming to type, with a full quota of fist fights, shootings, holdups and spectacular conflagrations, Let Freedom Ring reaches its climax when Eddy delivers a rousing speech which convinces railroad workers that they do not have to kowtow to their boss, follows it with a rendering of My Country, 'Tis of Thee.
Stagecoach (United Artists-Walter Wanger). In the forefront of Hollywood's crusade for social consciousness is Producer Walter Wanger (rhymes with "ranger"), a presentable young Dartmouth man, a prime exception to the rule that a college education is an insuperable handicap in Hollywood. Wanger got into the movie business after a heterogeneous career which included producing a play for Nazimova, service as a War flier in Italy (where he cracked up so many planes he was known as "the Austrian ace"), and running Paramount's Eastern studio in the 19203. Three years ago, he astounded the industry by announcing that he and Mussolini planned to build a "cinema city" on the outskirts of Rome, put Italy into cinema production on a grand scale. When the Hitler-Mussolini axis was formed, the Mussolini-Wanger axis broke. Wanger went on record as Hollywood's No. i anti-dictator producer by making Blockade and is now leading a move to revise Hollywood's famed Production Code, to permit producers to deal more frankly with controversial themes.