- Directed by Lewis Seiler
- December 11, 1942 (US)
A man works his way to the top but only finds himself lonely when he achieves success.
Pittsburgh. The exotic thrill-a-minute town provides the setting for this light romantic comedy starring John Wayne, Randolph Scott (Randolph Scott!), and Marlene Dietrich. The three had starred together previously in The Spoilers and heir chemistry works quite well here.
John Wayne and Randolph Scott in this film play coal mining buddies “Pittsburgh” Markham and “Cash” Evans respectively with big dreams and Marlene Dietrich plays “Hunky” Winters who is the woman they both fall for. Pretty standard setup. Just about every blue-collar person in this film has some nickname.
The story of Pittsburgh itself is told in a flashback by “Doc” Powers (Frank Craven) who is much more of a fatherly presence to Cash and Pittsburgh than he is an actual doctor. As a doctor he is a quack. Powers has some idea of making a cure all drug from coal (REALLY!) and that’s how he plays in the story from beginning to end. I’m not sure if such a concept has ever had any basis in reality but I’m not sure what possible medicinal value coal could ever have. He wants to make a sulfur compound to treat ailments that is “as harmless to take as water.” His words. Not mine.
As a film Pittsburgh is clearly designed to get people jazzed for the war effort. World War II was on everyone’s mind, and this was to keep the momentum at home going. Recruit charismatic and popular stars to keep the public in favor of the war effort and working towards victory.
Randolph Scott takes on the more John Wayne role of the upstanding guy. Playing against type, John Wayne is much more of a jerk in this movie. He’s a love ‘em and leave ‘em type and when he comes across Husky, while he romances her, his character of “Pittsburgh” Markham essentially keeps her in his back pocket for later. Or tries to do so anyway.
Randolph Scott as “Cash” Evans however is the more upstanding of the two. He’s a little more trustworthy and while he’s a love ‘em and leave ‘em type as well, he realizes that Hunky is a good woman for him and it sets him right.
Shemp Howard (that Shemp) shows up in the beginning of the film as Shorty, tailor friend of the group. Took me a few moments to realize who it was. Paul Fix who appeared in several Wayne films as well as The Rifleman with Chuck Connors and was the second Enterprise doctor appears here as the mine operator. Thomas Gomez also makes an appearance here as miners’ union president Joe Malneck. I recognized him from several episodes of the classic The Twilight Zone series. He was a fine actor but he is probably only truly remembered for his appearances on that show.
The story itself is on the light side. Then again it’s a romantic comedy attached to a morality tale so if you’re expecting complexity keep moving. Pittsburgh is fluff but fluff is not always bad.
This is a rare film where John Wayne’s character does not win the girl. Even if he lost her at first, Wayne’s manly charms got her back. Regardless of the scenario Wayne more often than not went off with a woman into the sunset in some fashion but here his character is knocked down a few pegs and rather humbled not only in a personal sense but a professional one as well.
Markham puts success before doing the right thing and ends up alone. He reneges on promises made and steps on others as he makes his way up. The story is essentially a morality tale about hard work and patriotism and doing the right thing. It’s also a pro labor film because it highlights more than once how Wayne’s character’s poor treatment of workers necessitates unions. Despite promises he did not look out for them so they had to take matters into their own hands.
The film is light and fun and carried by the chemistry between Wayne, Scott, and Dietrich. They work well together. And it’s probably helped along a little bit more by the rumored offscreen chemistry between Wayne and Dietrich as well which began with the film Seven Sinners.
I won’t call Pittsburgh a classic or great, but it is entertaining. It’s just fun and light and you will enjoy yourself so I say give it a watch!