GIVE US THIS DAY (Edward Dmytryk, 1949)

Edward Dmytryk is doubly notorious: he was the only member of the Hollywood Ten who, post-prison, named names to HUAC in order to revive his Hollywood career. I have had my say about all this a number of times, and here I go repeating myself again: for me, the truly evil ones were those who set human beings between a rock and a hard place by forcing them to retain their livelihoods by committing treachery or accept career and financial ruin. That said, Dmytryk made only one good movie, Hitler’s Children (1942), which owes more to Tim Holt’s superlative acting than to gifted direction. Indeed, the highest attainment in Dmytryk’s œuvre belongs to an actor, not Dmytryk: Humphrey Bogart’s electrifying Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny (1954).
     Because of Dmytryk’s initial refusal to state whether he had ever been a communist, Give Us This Day had to be made in England. The action, which begins in 1921 and proceeds into the Depression, is principally set in “Little Italy” in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, my home town. Confusingly, the current DVD replaces the original (and superior) title with that of the novel on which the movie is based: Pietro Di Donato’s Christ in Concrete, which blacklistee Ben Barzman, along with John Penn, adapted.
     The protagonist, Geremio, is a struggling bricklayer whose wife, Annuziata (Lea Padovani, superb), an Italian immigrant, is obsessed with their owning their own house—a goal seemingly beyond their means no matter how hard Geremio works. Three children and the Depression further tax hope. Geremio becomes the foreman on a construction project won on a low bid that was only possible because safety precautions for the workers were traded away. Geremio thus becomes alienated from the co-workers who once were his friends. Eventually, a job-site accident results in concrete being poured on him until he is drowned.
     This last event accounts for the film’s one striking image—although it is, of course, drawn from the far more gripping mill drowning in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr (1931). For the most part, Dmytryk’s film is cliché-ridden, with even a sideline of adultery thrown into the mix. (Kathleen Ryan is excellent as Geremio’s amoral extramarital partner.) One is compelled to add that Di Donato’s novel drew heavily from A. J. Cronin’s medical The Citadel, which preceded it by two years.
     The film’s politics match my own. It certainly is worth questioning what one owes one’s comrades and whether what someone would have earned in a lifetime pins that person’s worth. However much I agree with Dmytryk’s moral fable, though, Give Us This Day is terribly long and terribly dull.


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