Friday, October 5, 2012
Men Without Women - survival tale or ghost story? At the very least a lot of both, but above all most certainly a Ford film: the first quarter of the 70+ minute running time is spent in a Shanghai bar that resembles some kind of Fordian afterlife, with deep space stretching back into eternity filled with sailors and officers in spanking uniforms guzzling booze and playing pranks and breaking out into song and referring to the bartender as 'undertaker' and to themselves as ghosts and running into old acquaintances and spotting others thought to be dead. Precisely nothing of consequence occurs in this opening sequence, yet everything pertinent is felt - this world of thick fog and alcohol and the sea and death is clearly a step towards what would be expressed so profoundly a decade later in The Long Voyage Home - and the desperate situation that fills out the remaining movie becomes infused with this eeriness and vague sense of hyperphysicality and is thus rendered with maybe something less than the appropriate intensity of desperation, even if it does at times quite nimbly reach the fevered pitches of claustrophobia and dread that Ford struggles towards in The Lost Patrol (on that note, was there any other major director experimenting with violent strobing in 1930?). "S.O.S...SAVE OUR SOULS!!!" one sailor gone mad screeches towards the end; it's probably the most sane line spoken in the entire thing.