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With: Robert Taylor, Margaret Sullavan, Franchot Tone, Robert Young, Guy Kibbee, Lionel Atwill, Henry Hull, Charley Grapewin, Monty Woolley
Written by: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edward E. Paramore Jr., based on a novel by Erich Maria Remarque
Directed by: Frank Borzage
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 98
Date: 06/02/1938

Three Comrades (1938)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Casualties of Postwar

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Three Comrades on DVD.

Three big talents worked on Three Comrades, and though they butted heads, and the film came out rather uneven, there are still enough wonderful, beautiful moments to make it worth seeing. None other than F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote the screenplay -- or at least most of it -- (from Erich Maria Remarque's novel) and the ultimate romantic, Frank Borzage, directed. But producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz, a successful future writer and director, was working for MGM and needed something that fit the MGM mold. At the end of the First World War, three German soldiers, Erich (Robert Taylor), Otto (Franchot Tone) and Gottfried (Robert Young) return home to an uncertain future. (It takes a bit of suspension of disbelief to accept them as Germans.) They start a garage and cab service, but business is slow, and Gottfried joins a radical anti-fascist group that keeps getting him and his pals in trouble. Then Erich meets the lovely Pat (Margaret Sullavan) and falls for her, though he doesn't know how frail and sick she is. It all leads up to medical troubles and tearful finales for all the friends. Some scenes seem overwrought and overwritten, but Fitzgerald gets in plenty of memorable lines (one great one about flowers) and Borzage very often captures some potent emotions, almost despite the material. (It's more romantic than political.) He finds several vivid locations, like snowy alleys, a favorite pub or a second-floor terrace from which to wring his poetry. Taylor is perhaps the movie's weakest link; you can just picture how much better James Stewart would have been, but Sullavan is lovely and husky-voiced and small and she earned an Oscar nomination for her performance.

Three Comrades is the first title I watched from the exciting new Warner Archive, which has finally released 150 of the more obscure Warner, MGM and RKO catalog titles to the public (with twenty more titles coming each month). Viewers can order DVDs for $20 each or download digital versions for $15. Three Comrades is a pretty no-frills disc, with absolutely no subtitles or captions or audio options. The picture doesn't look restored, and the digital transfer is far from seamless. Nevertheless, the black-and-whites appear rich and not faded, and the sound is nice and clear. The disc comes with a trailer and a promo for the Warner Archive project.

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