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STRUGGLE, THE (director/writer: D.W. Griffith; screenwriters: based on a story by John Emerson and Anita Loos; cinematographers: Nick Rogalli/Joseph Ruttenberg; editor: Barney Rogan; music: Philip A. Scheib/D.W. Griffith; cast: Hal Skelly (Jimmie Wilson ), Zita Johann (Florrie Wilson), Charlotte Wynters (Nina), Jackson Halliday (Johnnie Marshall ), Evelyn Baldwin (Nan Wilson), Edna Hagan (Mary), Arthur Lipson (Cohen); Runtime: 77; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: D.W. Griffith; United Artists; 1931)
Today it’s best viewed as a fascinating curio, brought down by its wooden acting and grim, hokey tale of woe.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This was the great filmmaker, “the father of the American cinema,” D.W. Griffith’s (“Birth of a Nation”/”Intolerance”/”Broken Blossoms”) final film, a cornball melodrama that goes off on a stiff Victorian-like moral tract in regards to the evils of booze and how Prohibition led beer drinkers onto the more potent hard liquor. The pre-Depression satire (taking place mostly in the 1920s) chronicles the life of its decent average Joe protagonist, Jimmie Wilson (Hal Skelly, Broadway stage actor), a New Yorker who becomes a drunk from getting liquored up from the bootlegger’s booze at the speakeasies and falls from grace in his career as a mill foreman in a steel plant and in his domestic life with his lovely wife Florrie (Zita Johann) as his marital life starts unraveling over his drinking. It takes a climactic scene of the DT’s and Jimmie’s sweet little daughter Mary’s (Edna Hagan) encouragement to brings the good Joe back to his senses.

The indie film was backed with Griffith’s money and had a $300,000 budget. It was filmed at a Bronx rental studio. Critics panned it and the public stayed away in droves, causing the film to bomb at the box office and Griffith to spend the next seventeen years of his life in misery because he was never given the chance to make another film. The Struggle is based on a story by the husband and wife team of John Emerson and Anita Loos, who based it on the story The Drunkard by Emile Zola.

To Griffith’s credit he did better in the talkie medium (his second talkie) than his contemporaries might have thought and his warning about the evils of booze preceded Billy Wilder’s acclaimed The Lost Weekend (1945), that covered the same ground for its vulnerable to booze hero. In reality, the film was no worse than most melodramas at the time, but was still below Griffith’s better films.

Today it’s best viewed as a fascinating curio, brought down by its wooden acting and grim, hokey tale of woe.

Griffith married in 1936 his second wife, Evelyn Baldwin–she played Skelly’s sister.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”