“When you’re dead you get a hunk of Earth. When you’re alive you wanna hang on to your hunk of blue. That’s all I’ve got in the world. That’s all anybody’s got, is that hunk of blue.”
When Bill (Spencer Tracy) and Trina (Loretta Young) meet in a city park, it’s clear to him that she’s seen better days. Starving and with no place to go, she could use a helping hand. Bill offers it, inviting her to dinner and letting her order all the food she wants.
The trouble is, Bill himself can’t actually pay the bill. He has no money, but weasels his way out of the restaurant once the meal is finished. After learning that Trina is also homeless, he decides to let her stay at his place — a barely-held-together structure in a shanty town.
Trina soon becomes a fixture in the shanty town, making fast friends with struggling alcoholic Flossie (Marjorie Rambeau) and former preacher Ira (Walter Connolly). She also begins to fall in love with Bill. Can their romance work when they’re so down on their luck, and when Bill has a habit of never staying in one place too long?
Man’s Castle was directed by Frank Borzage. The screenplay was written by Jo Swerling from a play by Lawrence Hazard.
This film opens pretty startlingly, with Trina crying on a park bench because the pigeons have more food than her. The apparently-wealthy Bill comes to her rescue, but not without first quizzing her about why she hasn’t yet pimped herself out for food!
But as we soon learn, he isn’t wealthy at all, just a fancy dresser with a bold approach to living. Don’t have food? Simply dine and dash. Don’t have a place to stay? Check in to a hotel… and don’t tell ’em you’re broke until checkout.
For all of her struggles, Trina is an optimist, and when she moves into the shanty town she brings the sunshine with her. She’s the type to take what little she has and make the best of it, not dreaming but genuinely believing that things will improve.
The same can’t be said for Bill. He’s rough around the edges, and doesn’t have a very positive outlook on life. But he does have a soft spot for Trina, which Spencer Tracy plays fantastically. He spends a lot of time bopping her on the chin and warning her that he may leave at any time, but it’s clear that a deep connection exists between them.
Despite taking part in what is probably the most somber wedding I’ve ever seen in a film, Tracy and Young have such unique and wonderful chemistry here. Tiny, familiar gestures between them pepper the film, such as one moment in which Young whispers in Tracy’s ear in front of the stove shop, that just seem so genuinely intimate. They lend and authenticity to the film which really sells the story, even in its wilder moments.
As good as Tracy is in his role, and as wonderful as they are to watch together, Loretta Young is spectacular in her role of Trina. Even if this film’s plot in no way interests you, it’s worth a look for her performance. She completely broke my heart in this role, and brings much of the film’s emotional depth.
Man’s Castle packs a lot into its relatively brief run time, and takes some wild turns. Is it technically great? Nah. But it sure as heck did entertain and baffle me the whole way through. It’s a doozy, but it’s worth a watching, especially for its central performances.