Still up to my ears in translation, so I’ll reach back all the way to earlier this week, and review a movie I watched on Amazon Prime. One of the oldies again. This one was of particular interest, because it was based on a book I’ve reviewed here, Come and Get It by Edna Ferber. And I have family connections to the setting.
As you may recall if you have photographic memory and nothing better to think about, Come and Get It is Edna Ferber’s novel about the lumber industry in late 19th and early 20th Century northern Wisconsin. The hero is Barney Glasgow, a man with a dream of being rich which he fulfills, but at cost to himself and others.
In the film, the great character actor Edward Arnold plays Barney , which is a case of miscasting. Barney in the book was a big man, but not fat, at least at the start. Still, he gets the character right – a classic American go-getter, an obsessive A-Type before those labels were invented. When I watched a couple clips from the film on YouTube while reading the book, it appeared to me the movie took a lot of liberties. But watching the film, it seemed to me pretty faithful to heart of the story.
The book starts with Barney going to work in a lumber camp as a boy. The movie prunes the story at both ends, jumping forward at the beginning to the moment when Barney comes to visit his friend Swan Bostrom (Walter Brennan, whose Swedish accent might have been worse, I guess) in Iron Ridge, Wisconsin (standing in for Hurley, Wisconsin where my great-grandmother was born). He’s been working out in the camps as a foreman, but now he’s got a big idea to sell to the boss. If the boss goes along with it, Barney will be a partner.
In a saloon, they meet Lotta Morgan, a saloon singer (played by Frances Farmer in her first major movie role). Lotta falls for Barney, thinking he’s her ticket out of the gutter. However, Barney decides to marry the boss’s daughter, a condition of the big business deal. An embittered Lotta marries Swan instead.
Skip forward a couple decades, and Barney is now sole owner of the company, father to two adult children (Joel McCrae plays his son). He hasn’t learned much with the years; he runs roughshod over his family’s feelings, and feels no responsibility to the land he despoils with his logging. Then he’s persuaded to go back to Iron Ridge to visit Swan. He finds Swan now widowed, but he has a daughter (she was a granddaughter in the book), also named Lotta, who looks just like her mother (Farmer played both roles). Now it’s Barney’s turn to play the fool in love – he hires Lotta and brings her to Chicago with him, hoping he can possess her. But his next rival will be his own son.
I enjoyed watching Come and Get It more than I expected. Critical judgment hasn’t been enthusiastic, but I found it enjoyable and relatable. The ending seemed abrupt and anticlimactic, though, as if the writers couldn’t figure out how to wrap it up.
My grandfather worked in one of those camps as a boy. He started out young – he was tall and could get away with lying about his age. I don’t think he was actually a lumberjack proper; his stories were mostly about moving logs around, in wagons or on trains. He once told me a story about a guy driving a wagonload of timber that I thought was the funniest thing I ever heard. Only I can’t remember it at all after all these years.
I do remember his story about transporting logs on a flatcar. They piled them up high, and a couple guys had to ride on top to keep an eye on the merchandise. One day, he told me, he had to do something else and asked a friend to trade off on that day’s run. That was the day the logs started rolling off, and the guys riding on the flatcar, including his friend, were killed.