Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Another Look: STEEL AGAINST THE SKY (1941)

Ever have a relatively obscure movie from way, way back—or maybe just a certain scene from said movie—stick in your head so that every once in a while, over the years, it would pop to mind and make you pause and wonder why? And then wonder what had ever happened to that movie, why you never seemed to see or hear anything about any more?

Such a movie, for me, was Steel Against The Sky—a 1941 black-and-white Warner Bros. release starring Lloyd Nolan, Craig Stevens (yes, a very young "Peter Gunn" himself), and Alexis Smith. The title alone was pretty darn exciting to an impressionable 9-year old (approximately). This was back in simpler times when boys often dreamed of being (if not cowboys) something basic like a cop, fireman, or maybe a bulldozer operator when they grew up. I guess that might be why the exciting title and the story backdrop about men building a vast bridge over a nameless river stuck in my mind. I had no recollection at all about the storyline itself, except for the big climactic scene where two men were struggling high up on ice-caked girders during a raging sleet storm to bring under control a giant derrick that had come loose and was wildly swinging a huge iron ball with a hook attached, threatening to destroy critical sections of the partially completed bridge.
Those two things—the title and that sleet-storm scene—are the parts that kept rolling around in my head for over fifty years. I probably saw this movie on WGN out of Chicago back in the late fifties. As best I can recall, I only saw it once.

Flash forward fifty-odd years to yesterday afternoon when I was flipping through the channel listing and there it was, upcoming on TCM—Steel Against The Sky! I immediately hit the DVR button (sacrificing, without hesitation, both the O'Reilly Factor and the opening segments of Monday Night Raw) and sat back to see why or what it was about this flick that had stayed with me for so long.

Happy to say, I wasn't disappointed. Steel is typical Warner Bros. late '30s/early '40s fare—snappy dialogue, generous doses of danger, sentimentality, and humor, a beautiful dame, and conflict between its two leading men (generally, as in this case, over the dame). The dame here is a never-more-sultry Alexis Smith, who actually had top billing over Nolan and Stevens. Looking at it from a (arguably) more mature perspective, I have to wonder if the sultriness of Ms. Smith, who gets at least a dozen lingering soft-focus close-ups in the movie, might have had some subconscious impact on me even at my then-tender age and was at least part of the reason the overall flick stuck in my head.
At any rate, the big sleet storm scene held up fairly well (although not quite as impressive as when I first saw it) and the rest of the movie more than measured up. Nice, tight, enjoyable film. I don't know if it truly rates as a "classic", but there are a hell of a lot worse ways to kill ninety minutes.

Trivia bits: 1.) There are brief appearances by character actor standby Frank Faylen and a very, very young Jackie Gleason; 2.) A couple years after this film, Stevens and Smith would be married and remain so (practically unheard of in Hollywood) for fifty years, until her death; 3.) Steel Against The Sky follows a storyline almost identical to an earlier (1935) Warner Bros. movie titled The Irish In Us, starring Pat O'Brien and James Cagney in the Nolan – Stevens roles and with a Police Force background as opposed as bridge-building.

Unfortunately, I can't find any listing for Steel Against The Sky being available on either video or DVD. If you Google it, you'll find a couple places where it is downloadable. Otherwise, if any of my rambling has stirred either your memory or interest, you can keep an eye out on TCM. It's in their vault now, so sooner or later they're sure to be showing it again.

Persevere — WD

1 comment:

Richard Prosch said...

I was sure you'd write that during the sleet scene two men would be struggling with one another (to the death, naturally) --then you surprised me with the giant derrick swinging around. Hot dog! I'd like to see that!