It. tit.: Un popolo muore; Sog.: dal romanzo di Sinclair Lewis; Scen.: Sidney Howard; F.: Ray June; Mu.: Alfred Newman; Int.: Ronald Colman (dottor Martin Arrowsmith), Helen Hayes (Leora Arrowsmith), A. E. Anson (professor Gottlieb), Richard Bennett (Sondelius), Claude King (doctor Tubbs), Beulah Bondi (Lady Tozer), Myrna Loy (Joyce Lanyon), Russell Hopton (Terry Wickett), De Witt Jennings (mister Tozer), John Qualen (Henry Novak), Adele Watson (lady Novak), Lumdsen Hare (Mr Robert Fairland), Bert Roach (Bert Tozer), Charlotte Henry (a young woman), Clarence Brooks (Pliver Marchand), Walter Downing (City Clerk), David Landau, James Marcus, Alec B. Francis, Sidney McGrey, Florence Britton, Bobby Watson; Prod.: Samuel Goldwyn per United Artists; Pri. pro.: 1 dicembre 1931. 35mm. L.: 2771 m. D.: 101’. Bn.
Ford’s most prestigious fim of the early thirties, Arrowsmith, an adaptation by Sidney Howard of Sinclair Lewis’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1925 novel, was acclaimed for what now seem all the wrong reasons. Its choppy, overly elliptical narrative pays respects to the novel’s themes without treating any in sufficient depth; the dialogue is rife with speechifying; and Ronald Colman’s British accent and declamatory acting style make his Midwestern doctor even more of a pompous fool than Lewis intended. Some of these flaws stem from the novel. What’s most interesting today about Ford’s version of Arrowsmith is not how closely it reflects the novel, but how this wildly uneven, sometimes downright weird movie obliquely reflects some of the personal conflicts tormenting Ford at a critical juncture of his life. The story of Martin Arrowsmith, whose egomaniacal ambition destroys both his family and his sense of personal integrity, must have struck Ford as a cautionary tale. Arrowsmith’s opening title somewhat misleadingly calls it “The story of a man who dedicated his life to service and his heart to the love of one woman.” While devoted to his wife (Helen Hayes) in theory, Arrowsmith finds it difficult to deal with her actual needs. These conflicts were familiar to Ford after eleven years of increasingly unsatisyfing and argumentative married life. His neglect of his wife and children for work, booze, his male friends, and fruitless affairs with other women gave Ford an edginess and desperation that he instilled in Colman’s characterization of Arrowsmith. Unable to resolve Arrowsmith’s conflicts in any truly coherent dramatic way because he was too confused about them in his own life, Ford once again sought selfexpression in quirky directorial touches inserted here and there in cracks of the narrative. Ford’s dissatisfaction with the picture came to a head when he walked off the set due to a clash with producer Samuel Goldwyn and went on a bender. He eventually was removed from the picture. In 1963, when Peter Bogdanovich asked Ford to name his favorite of all his films, Ford solemnly replied, “Arrowsmith.”
(from Searching for John Ford)