Before seeing this film, which stars Henry Fonda and Pat O’Brien, I don’t suppose I’d ever thought about how dangerous life was for early power workers. This gritty Warner movie brings home the risks, beginning with a voiceover tribute to all the linemen who travelled across America in the early years of the 20th century to string up the electric wires.
I was reminded of The Crowd Roars, an early 1930s Warner movie about racing drivers, because the power workers in this film are also shown as being under great stress and living under the shadow of death. There’s also the same feeling of impermanence and constantly moving on to another job – and the fear of settling down and marrying today, in case you die tomorrow.
However, unlike racing drivers, the linemen aren’t glamorous figures – except to the eyes of farm boy Slim (Fonda), who longs to leave the plough and join their daring ranks. They’re presented as firmly working-class – and delighted to be in steady work and earning a good salary. All the banter and cameraderie on the building sites seem to ring true, with the drinking and gambling sessions in the evenings to let off steam. I was quite shocked at the lack of safety precautions, with no sign of hard hats (were they invented then?) or adequate safety harnesses. If these men fall from the scaffolding, they plunge to the ground – and if they drop a hammer or a wrench, they probably hit a workmate on the head.
(The part of this review behind the cut includes spoilers and another picture.)