This film was viewed for the Barbara Stanwyck Filmography Project.
Stanwyck’s earlier flicks can be somewhat difficult to find, and Her Uncle Sam, also known as Red Salute, Runaway Daughter or Her Enlisted Man, is one of them. Since the film has fallen into the public domain, the Internet Archive has it available (for streaming or download), but it’s an incomplete copy.
It’s unfair to judge a film on the strength of its script when it’s incomplete, so aside from giving a brief synopsis I won’t discuss the story much. However, I still wanted to give it a watch and a write-up for the Stanwyck Filmography Project.
(NOTE: The Internet Archive print is complete enough that the film doesn’t seem nonsensical or confusing. The ending is cut off on the download version, but I was able to find a more complete version on YouTube to finish it. Still, I’m not sure exactly how much footage is lost in either of these prints.)
Her Uncle Sam follows Drue Van Allen (Stanwyck), the daughter of an Army general. She’s in love with a communist college student (Hardie Albright), which angers her father (Purnell Pratt). He sends her away to Juarez against her will, effectively putting a stop to her relationship.
Desperate to get back to Washington and to her love, Drue tries everything, even gambling her last $5 in hopes that she’ll make enough money to get back to the United States. But when she meets a young soldier named Jeff (Robert Young), her plans go awry.
Her Uncle Sam was directed by Sidney Lanfield.
Though now mostly-forgotten, the movie was controversial at the time of its release. Variety’s archived review of the picture notes:
“During the first day’s showing at the Rivoli, NY, patriots and youths allied with the anti-war National Student League climaxed their contending rounds of applause, hissing and booing with several fist fights. Out on the sidewalk girl and boy Student Leaguers distributed handbills urging a boycott of the picture.” (Variety, 1935)
The film apparently wasn’t too well-received by critics, either. The New York Times review of the film criticizes every bit of the story, and the reviewer quips: “With the subtlety of a steamroller and the satirical finesse of a lynch mob the film goes in for some of the most embarrassing chauvinism of the decade.” (For more of Andrew Sennwald’s entertaining take on the film from the time of its release, check out the full review from the New York Times archive.)
No doubt about it, this is a messy film to the modern eye, both for its “red scare” message and its treatment of the lead female character. Stanwyck’s Drue, in the beginning a forward-thinking woman who puts a high priority on intelligence and education, is made to give up all of her own ideas and aspirations in favor of love.
That being said, putting over-the-top political paranoia and gender-role issues aside, this isn’t a bad watch at all. Snappy screwball dialogue keeps the pace quick and the mood bright.
Stanwyck and Robert Young make a very nice pair in terms of chemistry. I wish they’d made more films together! (They did appear together a year later in The Bride Walks Out.) With many a great pre-code under her belt by the time this film was made, Stanwyck’s performance is very good. Having reviewed so many of her films, I probably sound like a broken record with my praise for her performances, but she truly never disappoints!
Despite its problems, Her Uncle Sam is a decent screwball comedy — certainly nowhere near the best of the genre, but an enjoyable watch if you can put the aforementioned issues aside (and don’t mind watching a partial print). The score: 3/5