The movies’ great humanist made more famous and warmly received films than this one, but none that was more intricate or insinuating. A product of Renoir’s early 1930s commitment to Popular Front leftism, it tells the story of a hack writer of pulp westerns, cruelly exploited by his crooked publisher, who finally, justifiably, murders the man. It is not, however, a mystery story. It is, among other things, an idealistic parable (the publishing house employees turn the company into a cooperative) and an affecting romance (it ends with Lange and his lover on the run, hoping for a better life, and the audience thinking perhaps they will attain the happiness they deserve). It is a film that smoothly transcends its occasional improbabilities to offer a lovely, totally engaging portrait of ordinary people pressed down by the Depression but lifted up by their passionate decency.
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