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Heroes for Sale 1933
Description: The saga of honorable boy Tom Holmes, whose Nice Fight heroics earn fame and a medal for someone else, while his wounds effect in morphine addiction and a string of challenges and tragedies for himself.
Released: 17 Jun 1933 Director: William A. Wellman Writers: Robert Lord (screen play), Wilson Mizner (screen play) Actors: Richard Barthelmess, Aline MacMahon, Loretta Young, Gordon Westcott Genres: Drama, War
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Heroes for Sale Reviews:

The screenplay may meander, but it wanders into zone that would remain untouched for years courtesy the straitjacketing Production Code of 1934. Consider the outspoken communist Maximum Brinker railing vs the plundering rich. Sure, the screenplay eventually capitulates by showing him up as a rank opportunist utterly devoted to wealth when he gets the chance. But for a several mins the communist is now a somewhat sympathetic character. Then too, maybe main hero Tommy Holmes could have listened to some of those railings. That method he would have known that while he might strike an altruistic deal with one capitalist (laundry owner Gibson), other will break it as later as he sees a competitive advantage in doing so. Thus innovative machines come to replace human labor in the laundry, and more folks join the unemployment lines. Not exactly a standard plot development for post-1934 Hollywood.Then there's the Red Squad, sort of the thought-police of the time, usually off-duty cops paid by local business interests to hound union organizers and another troublemakers out of town. The film makes clear that the two team members who confront Holmes will test force unless he complies, which he meekly does. Still and all, how many Americans even know that such extra-legal groups as Red Teams operated during the Depression, while authorities looked the proverbial another way. Then too, isn't it odd how tissue-thin gratis speech becomes when it directly challenges the prerogatives of wealth and power, as union organizing especially did. The vigilantes at the movie's end are somewhat similar, except their motives are less political. Instead, they were generally civilians from the community kicking the footloose unemployed down the street because their own city is too ravaged to help. Maybe that's not charitable, but it is understandable.Speaking of charity, the final several scenes illustrate the importance of government action in the face of increasing hunger and joblessness. Sure, Holmes proves himself something of a secular saint in using his wealth to feed the hungry. But what happens to those same needy if he suddenly changes his mind, dies, or goes broke. To me, this shows the limitations of voluntary giving as a societal solution, praiseworthy as giving may be. No, something like broad-based government action is required when there's a breakdown in the economy itself. Whatever the screenplay's true deficiencies in treating these issues, they are at least raised. And just as tellingly, these same highly charged subject would for all practical purposes disappear from film screens for the next few decades.The film itself has a number of noteworthy scenes. Wellman's filming of the unemployment riot is both vigorous and persuasive, as is the battlefield stage with its hellish terrain separating the German and American sides. As a director and veteran of WWI, Wellman's clearly at home with such subjects. I like the method the screenplay prepares us for Holmes' extraordinarily humane behavior by having him first experience nice pain and then drug addiction stemming from a fight wound. In the process, he learns the private value of charity and mercy. It's also gutsy, I think, to present him rescued and pulled back from death by a German field hospital and the German branch of the Red Cross. Hollywood seldom affords the opponent such magnanimous gestures as it does here. Also, consider how Holmes the returning vet is left essentially to manage as greatest he can with a fight wound and a morphine addiction. Apparently there was no tool at the time to support vets return successfully to civilian life, much as vets of the Iraq fight were left to deal unaided with Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome and Vietnam vets with the results of Agent Orange. Then too, the screenplay makes Holmes' plight especially ironic since he's the real fight hero, and not the fair-haired Roger Winston. Yet because of the fog of battle, it's the cowardly Winston who's awarded officer's rank and mistaken for a hero, while Holmes is left to struggle alone and unrecognized. Thus, the entire concept of heroism amid the fog of fight is portrayed as more problematic than generally thought.The film itself benefits from Barthelmess' understated performance as the pivotal Holmes. His hero comes across as something of an everyman, such that his humane potential thereby becomes everyman's potential. Also, Gordon Westcott as the weakling Winston manages to add an unexpectedly sympathetic touch to a basically unsympathetic role. But I especially like Aline MacMahon as the lovelorn Mary. Watch how subtly she conveys her unrequited affection from the moment she first meets Holmes. It's a rather poignant performance suggesting the plight of the plain-faced girl in a culture that especially prizes feminine beauty.Thanks are owed to TCM for reviving these "forbidden" movies from the pre-code era. I've been a fanatic of the late present in large store LA for 40 years, and I don't recall any of the films being shown on commercial channels during that period. To me, this suggests that the movies were either too titillating or too political to receive a commercial airing. And by the time the lid did come off in the 70's, they had been assigned to the film dustbin and forgotten. But as Heroes shows, movies from this grievously neglected period were willing to take on hard and controversial topics. And just as importantly, the subject here are ones that remain as relevant actually as they were then.


...and took nothing for himself....This Aline McMahon's last line will haunt you long after watching this extremely moving work by William Wellman who was ,along Frank Borzage,America's finest director of the early talkies.Both were fighting for the dignity of men,both made films which -it's all over nowadays,with the possible exception of perhaps Clint Eastwood's work- can support us become better boys and women.THere are similarities between "Heroes for sale" and "I'm a fugitive from a chain gang" .In the latter,Paul Muni tries to sell his medals but in the shop,they already got too many of them,so he 's got to steal.In "heroes for sale" ,Tom ,who lost all the honors to a coward who shamelessly walked away with the glory,has to cope with everyday's life in the years of depression.Wellman ,although his movies were heartfelt pleas for the human being ,was not optimistic.Happy ends were not for him: Tom (Heroes) ,Gilda ("Safe in hell") and Lilly Turner in the eponymous movie are victims of the war,of fate or of men.They wish to hold their promise (it's obvious in Gilda's and Tom's case) ,even if it costs them their life or their happiness.And let's not forget "the oxbow incident",the saddest of all westerns ,a stage of which shows Dana Andrews writing a letter to his wife he knew he was not to see again.When I watch these Wellman oldies ,I'm amazed by this:the really satisfied moments are so several and far between I wonder how a boy or a girl at the end of a difficult earned day search some reason to believe.But they are here: the restaurant where Aline McMahon takes in the last lonely and wretched and gives to the terrible for gratis ;Loretta Young's smile which lightens up the seediest of the rooms;the man telling :"when I grow up,I wish to be like him".A masterpiece that could not missed.


HEROES FOR SALE is accessible on videotape as part of the "Forbidden Hollywood" series of pre-Hayes Code films. Since it is not salacious, unlike most of this line, its inclusion is a bit of a stretch-- its hero's morphine addiction is honestly come-by. Still, it is a grabber-- I have shown it to three acquaintances, and every has been as surprised as I. Why isn't this movie better known? If you problem yourself to search a copy, what you will receive is a furiously compacted plot line that resembles an Americanized LES MISERABLES. Won't spoil the surprises, which are frequent. But the plot is hardly more surprising than the film's anger-- watch for the series of fast scenes late in the movie documenting a Red-scare vendetta by Chicago police. What really seems "forbidden" here are the politics.



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