Wednesday 16 January 2013

Movie Review: Home Town Story (1951)

Somewhere between laughable corporate propaganda and outright embarrassment, Home Town Story survives as a curiosity piece thanks to the appearance of a young Marilyn Monroe in one of her pre-fame roles.

Blake Washburn (Jeffrey Lynn) is a defeated and quick-tempered ex-United States senator, returning to his small home town to take over as editor of the local newspaper. Bitter about his defeat and intent on fighting the next election, Washburn uses the newspaper as a mouthpiece and looks for controversial issues to make a name for himself. He soon sets his sights on large corporate profits as an easy target to whip up populist frenzy. Slim Haskins (Alan Hale, Jr.) is a reporter at the paper and also Blake's friend, but becomes increasingly uncomfortable with Washburn's zealous anti-corporate stance.

Meanwhile Janice Hunt (Marjorie Reynolds) is the girlfriend beginning to question whether Blake is the man for her, while Blake's much younger and quite annoying sister Kate is excited about an upcoming school trip. Local corporate magnate John MacFarland (Donald Crisp) tries to explain to Blake the benefits of large corporations to no avail. But when things go drastically wrong during Kate's school trip, Blake gets an eyeful of all the resources that companies with deep pockets can deploy for the greater good.

Backed by the likes of General Motors and directed by Arthur Pierson under the MGM banner, Home Town Story started life as a commercial and ended up as a one hour movie blatantly trumpeting the benefits of corporate economic muscle. The ham-fisted approach to delivering the message would make the propaganda machine of any dictator proud, while the mundane performances and wooden characters add charm to the astounding artistic carnage on display. Only Alan Hale Jr. emerges with any credit, his turn as reporter Slim Haskins the one character who comes close to escaping the rampant awkwardness.

Marilyn Monroe has perhaps three minutes of screen time and five lines of dialogue as the secretary at the newspaper, bearing the brunt of Slim's boorish advances. And despite the fleeting presence, her charisma is by far the best thing going on in Home Town Story, an otherwise utterly forgettable and amateurish attempt at brainwashing.

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