The Gladiator (1938)

Not Rated   |    |  Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy

The Gladiator (1938) Poster

A man returns to college and is talked into joining he football team and is a real joke on the team, until he is given a drug that gives him super strength.


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19 April 2011 | MartinHafer
| A great story idea indifferently executed.
During the early to mid-1930s, Joe E. Brown was a hot commodity at Warner Brothers. He was a top start and he commanded top money to make a long string of agreeable comedies. However, in a bone-headed career move, Brown was convinced to sign with tiny David Loew Productions and his career was in a tailspin. I've seen four of the six Loew films with Brown and most of them are adequate but no more--the best of which was the first, "When's Your Birthday?". The final two, this film and "Wide Open Faces" are on the same disk.

Aside from the usually cute and perfect-looking child actor (I suspect he was a robot), Dickie Moore, this film has nothing but unknown actors in supporting roles--and so it's up to Brown to carry to carry this movie. Fortunately, the plot idea is strong.

The film begins with Brown losing his job at the hospital. Although he's great with these kids in the pediatric ward, they want a college educated person for the position. But, when Brown wins $1500 soon after this, he decides to return to college and get his degree.

Soon after he arrives, the students learn that his father was the captain of their football team and his grandfather was a track and field star. So, they expect him to follow in his family's footsteps. But, they don't realize that he's no athlete--that is, until the wacky professor injects him with a formula that makes him like Superman! In fact, the film was inspired by the same story that inspired the writers of the Superman comic. Now, Brown is an amazing athlete--but the Professor is worried--worried Brown is SO powerful that he kill kill the other players! And when Brown realizes this, he doesn't want to play ball either--until he's tricked into doing it by a pretty co-ed.

Where all this goes next you'll just have to see for yourself. I found the film to be enjoyable--one of the better Loew productions. I think the story idea was a 'can't miss' plot and so it's not surprising that the film worked. However I can't help thinking that it could have been a lot funnier given the great story. Worth seeing but not nearly as good as his Warner Brothers films.

A couple final observations. Brown was actually 46 when he made this film--a bit old to be on the college team--and to be taking all those hits and wrestling with Man Mountain! Also, like most college films of the era, did you notice that no one ever seems to go to classes?! Not a single scene of him in class or doing classwork occurs!

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