EDISON, THE MAN (director: Clarence Brown; screenwriters: Bradbury Foote/Talbot Jennings/story by Dore Schary & Hugo Butler; cinematographer: Harold Rosson; editor: Frederick Y. Smith; music: Herbert Stothart; cast: Cast: Spencer Tracy (Thomas Edison), Rita Johnson (Mary Stillwell Edison), Lynne Overman (Bunt Cavatt), Charles Coburn (General Powell), Gene Lockhart (Mr. Taggart), Henry Travers (Ben Els), Felix Bressart (Michael Simon), Guy D’Ennery (Lundstrom), Arthur Aylesworth (Jack Bigelow); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: John W. Considine, Jr; Warner Home Video; 1940)
“It’s a well-crafted and well-acted standard biopic, but the facts are suspect as they hide the dark side of Edison and never show his strong-arm tactics in business.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Clarence Brown (“They Met In Bombay”/”Plymouth Adventure”/”National Velvet”) directs this lightly charged fictionalized biography of the electricity man, Thomas Alva Edison. It’s MGM’s follow-up to their recently released “Young Tom Edison,” which starred Mickey Rooney as Edison as a small fry. This decision to have two Edison films paid off as Edison the Man, showing the great inventor of the incandescent lightbulb as an adult, became an even bigger box-office hit than the first film. The original story by Dore Schary and Hugo Butler had the two nominated for a Best Writing, Original Story Oscar; the screenplay is by Bradbury Foote and Talbot Jennings. It’s a well-crafted and well-acted standard biopic, but the facts are suspect as they hide the dark side of Edison (his bigotry, being short-sided about his invention of the movie projector and it never shows his strong-arm tactics in business).
The story begins with Edison (Spencer Tracy) as a wise and benevolent man of 82, who is being honored with a Golden Jubilee of Light banquet in 1929 for his many inventions. The film goes into a flashback with Edison recalling his early years and it picks up when Edison struggled in poverty in NYC as a telegraph worker for Ben Els and worked on his own as an unknown inventor. It tells of his heartaches and how by repairing a ticker tape machine he gets a job at the Western Union workshop with General Powell (Charles Coburn), the president of Western Union. There he has a romance with the company secretary Mary Stillwell (Rita Johnson). Assisted by fellow workers Bigelow (Arthur Aylesworth), Lundstrum (Guy D’Ennery) and Michael Simon (Felix Bressart), Edison perfects the stock ticker and sells it to General Powell and gas man Taggart (Gene Lockhart). With the profits, Edison opens his own laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey and marries Mary. It then goes through a laundry list of some of Edison’s 10,000 inventions that include the phonograph and after many years of hardship the light bulb. Edison’s incandescent light invention replaces gas, to Taggart’s chagrin, and lights New York City.
Facts and MGM fiction (given approval for the changes by the Edison family) combine for a passable sentimental biopic, that’s somewhat absorbing.
REVIEWED ON 10/27/2007 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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