5 January 2002 | lugonian
A Self-Sacrificing Father
THE WAY OF ALL FLESH (Paramount, 1940), directed by Louis King, is a remake of an old 1927 silent tearjerker that starred the then great German actor, Emil Jannings (1884-1950), in the drama, along with "THE LAST COMMAND (Paramount, 1928), that earned him the honor of being the first actor ever to win an Academy Award. Jannings' career in Hollywood was successful but short-lived. After silent movies converted to sound, Jannings returned to Germany by choice in 1929 where he resumed his film career, quite successfully with Germany's first all sound film, THE BLUE ANGEL (1930) with Marlene Dietrich. The leading actor in this remake is the Russian-born Akim Tamiroff (1900-1973), a resident character actor of numerous features for Paramount since 1934, who, by this time, had risen from minor roles to occasional character parts to occasional top-billed leads in second feature films. While Tamiroff could have been Paramount's answer to Emil Jannings of the 1940s, possibly appearing in remakes to his Hollywood silent films of the late 1920s, Tamiroff returned to supporting character parts, ranging from comedy to drama, with two Academy Award nominations as best supporting actor to his credit, but sad to say, THE WAY OF ALL FLESH is not one of them.
Tamiroff stars as the bearded Paul Kriza, a European by birth living in mid-western United States with his American wife, Anna (Gladys George), and their four children, working as a bank cashier. A loyal employee, Paul is entrusted by Mr. Hanzel (Roger Imhoff), a bank president, to go to New York City to deliver a large sum of money for the bank. After a sentimental farewell to his family, Paul goes on his way. While on the train, Paul lets his responsibility lapse when he innocently becomes involved with Mary Brown (Murial Angelus), a dubious adventuress, who, after learning of his mission, gets him drunk and seduces him. During a drunken revel, Mary, accompanied by Reginald L. Morten (Berton Churchill), her middle-aged partner, steal the bank's bonds. Aware of what has happened, Paul searches for the thieves. He later becomes the victim of cruel circumstance when he encounters a thief who tries to rob him, beating him unconscious. Paul awakens only to find the thief had taken his watch and ring, items of sentimental value. A fight ensues, which ends with Paul's attacker getting pushed in front of a passing train, killing him. Rather than return home a disgrace, Paul decides to exchange identities with the dead man, letting the deceased be found with his personal belongings on him. As for Paul's wife, Anna, she receives the news that her husband died a hero defending his employer's trust. Years later, Paul continues to live in New York working odd jobs for the city, such as collecting rubbage in playgrounds, keeping only to himself, telling those who ask him about his family by responding that he "has nobody." One of the most poignant scenes in the story occurs later when Paul, reading in a newspaper about his eldest son, Paul Jr. (William Henry), now a famous violinist, scheduled to play in a concert. Paul manages to attend by earning enough money for a gallery seat, and being moved to tears when he not only watches his son play to a full and attentive audience, but seeing his wife and grown children from afar.
Also seen in the supporting cast are Darryl Hickman, James West, Marilyn Knowlden and Norma Jean Nelson as the Kriza kids; with John Hartlet, June Haden and Betty McLaglin as the Kriza children as young adults.
With Hollywood producing so many tearful dramas over the years, such as IMITATION OF LIFE (1934) and/or STELLA DALLAS (1937) for example, which focuses upon self-sacrificing mothers, THE WAY OF ALL FLESH is one of the known few that centers around a self-sacrificing father. Trite and old-fashioned at times, with a storyline resurrected from the bygone silent era, which to some, that's where it should have stayed, THE WAY OF ALL FLESH relies solely on Tamiroff's skilled performance to carry the story through. But because this drama lacks top named actors and director, and being of some interest to a limited audience, it would be unlikely that this film will never be shown on television again. Had it starred a bigger name actor like Edward G. Robinson, who, too, would have given a good solid performance with this role, then THE WAY OF ALL FLESH would not only be shown on a classic movie cable channel, but distributed on video cassette. On and all, it's worth viewing if it could be available again, but be warned and have a box of tissues handy. (***)