21 September 2001 | pae-sk
A little gem of a film
Running a mere 80 minutes, this little treasure packs in more action and character development than you're likely to find in some of Sly's and Arnold's big-budget blockbusters. A personal favorite of Fonda's, it's the story of a farmer's young son (he even plows the family's 40 acres behind a mule!) who leaves the farm to join a gang of linemen doing the grand task of electrifying rural America during the Great Depression. It's hard to believe, but historical fact, that prior to WWII, 75% of all Americans lived on the farm without electric power. Taken under the wing of mentor Red Blayde (Pat O'Brien), the boy Slim (Fonda) learns about life and love, honor and betrayal, and most of all, the nobility of a man's work, in the days when work itself was regarded as a higher value than just the pay check it brought in. Little moments stand out: Slim lighting up his first nickel cheroot; writing his Mom a letter home and including a $5 bill; leaning back in the passenger seat of Red's convertible as they ride down Chicago's Michigan Avenue, looking up in awe and sheer joy at his first glimpse of a big city. "Take a good look," says Red, "there's only two other cities like it in the country!" Rounding out the cast are Stu Erwin as Stumpy, the lazy and comical ground worker; Joe Sawyer, the "lyin' goldbrikkuh;" a glamorous Jane Wyman as Red's girl; always cheerful Margaret Lyndsey as the nurse who takes a shine to Slim; and stalwart John Littel as the company boss. From a top-notch novel (1934) by William Wister Haines, author of "High Tension," "Command Decision," "The Hon. Rocky Slade," and many others. Ten out of ten.