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  Pittsburgh Marlene Does Her Bit
Year: 1942
Director: Lewis Seiler
Stars: Marlene Dietrich, Randolph Scott, John Wayne, Frank Craven, Louise Allbritton, Shemp Howard, Thomas Gomez, Ludwig Stossel, Samuel S. Hinds, Paul Fix, William Haade, Charles Coleman, Nestor Paiva
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Action, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: "Pittsburgh" Markham (John Wayne) is one of the leaders of American industry and now the war is here, he has set his factories to manufacturing for the war effort. But how did he reach this prestigious stage in life? He started with practically nothing, a coal miner with big dreams alongside his best friend Cash Evans (Randolph Scott) who would support and indulge him in whatever scheme got into his head. But Pittsburgh did have enough nous to understand that the business can exploit the possibilities of coal, not merely as a fuel, but also able to branch out into other fields as well, and with Cash the more financially savvy of the two, they hoped to be unstoppable. Ah, but what of the woman who came between them?

What indeed? She was none other than Marlene Dietrich, her character rather oddly nicknamed Hunky after the Bohunk background she hailed from (a derogatory name for the European labourer class in America), but actually called Josie Winters. We are introduced to her as a kind of glamorous (of course) hanger on for the not quite on the level businessmen Pitt and Cash are hoping to join - or be rivals to - and Pitt is immediately smitten, but a running theme was how he didn't know what was good for himself thanks to his runaway greed. Naturally, he should be settling with Josie, but he wants more and once they establish themselves in the coal industry, he aspires to be part of high society, which suits him about as well as you would expect, that is, not very.

This trio of stars had recently enjoyed a hit with Alaskan "Western" The Spoilers, yet reflecting the recent entry of the United States into the Second World War, all three of them were invested in promoting the pro-fighting ethos to foil the Axis powers. Wayne was famed for his flagwavers, since he could not take part in combat himself (not through cowardice, as his detractors would claim, but because he was not physically able, despite his eagerness to participate), and as he was more valuable as a figurehead of America's can do attitude, he was set to work on the propaganda like this one. Curiously, the title character is not that sympathetic for a swathe of the plot, apparently so he could learn the error of his ways and a positive method of co-operation as the whole nation was encouraged to do.

Dietrich was even more invested than Wayne or Scott (who had fought in World War I, so was a little long in the tooth to be joining up for the rematch), for she was German and had seen her country spiral into fascism to her horror. Rather than spend her war making movies, she tended to go on tours and entertain the Allied troops, both demonstrating not all Germans were Nazis and cheering up the beleaguered soldiers, sailors and pilots by singing them a song or two, flashing her legs and reminding them what they were fighting for. This rendered Pittsburgh interesting for that reason, as it was a relatively rare Dietrich outing where she contributed to the war in motion picture form; she did not get to sing, but she embodied the "we're all in this together" qualities the film was keen to put across. You had comedy, brawling, romance, a touch of class tension to be gotten over, and a clear and patriotic message about what the ordinary American should do to assist - not merely the Americans, either, as Dietrich's presence ensured this was exported across the globe. For what it was, it was a highly professional product. Music by Hans Salter and Frank Skinner.

[The BFI Blu-ray box set Marlene Dietrich at Universal 1940-42 features Seven Sinners, The Flame of New Orleans, The Spoilers and Pittsburgh and these extras:

High Definition transfers of all four films
Seven Sinners feature commentary by film historian David Del Valle and screenwriter C Courtney Joyner
The Flame of New Orleans feature commentary by film historian Lee Gambin and actor and film historian Rutanya Alda
The Spoilers feature commentary by film historian Toby Roan
Pittsburgh feature commentary by critic and film historian Pamela Hutchinson
Music and effects tracks for The Flame of New Orleans, The Spoilers and Pittsburgh
Galleries
60-page book featuring newly commissioned essays by Sarah Wood, Pamela Hutchinson, So Mayer, Ellen Cheshire, Katy McGahan and Phillip Kemp
Limited to 4,000 copies.

Released 25th January 2021.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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