No Greater Glory (1934)

Film Review

NO GREATER GLORY

Release Date: 30 March, 1934

Studio: Columbia

Director: Frank Borzage

Starring: George Breakston, Jackie Searl, Frankie Darro

Synopsis

The film opens on a scene of soldiers fighting with bayonets. A man in civilian clothes cries out that war is useless, and he will fight no more. The scene shifts to a classroom where the teacher is haranguing the class about the glory of patriotism and fighting for one's country. The teacher questions a group of boys about their gang and their impeding fight with another gang over their playground, a vacant lot. He says he will break up both gangs. The gang known as the Paul Street Boys meets in the lot. They have a military organization. The youngest and smallest boy, Nemecsek, is the only private. He pleads to be made an officer and wear a hat. The other boys refuse.

The second gang, The Red Shirts, is made up of older and bigger boys, led by Feri Ats. Feri Ats steals the flag of the Paul Street Boys. Three Paul Street boys, including Boka, the president of the gang and Nemecsek attempt to take back their flag, but fail. Later, Nemecsek returns alone to get the flag, but falls out of a tree into the middle of the Red Shirts' meeting. He defies them. Feri Ats admires his spirit but has him dunked. The Paul Street Boys prepare to fight the Red Shirts for possession of the vacant lot. Possession of the Paul Street Boys' flag at the end of the fight will decide the winner. Nemecsek, sick because of his exposure to wet and cold during the dunking, is home in bed. He is visited by Boka, who brings him a hat and makes him an officer, and by members of the Red Shirts. They were sent by Ats who feels guilt over the dunking. Nemecsek, who knows the fighting has started, dresses and hurries to join it. When he arrives, the fight is nearly over and Ats still holds the flag. Nemecsek tackles Ats, then collapses and dies. His mother carries him home. The boys of both gangs follow sorrowfully. Several days later, the two gangs hold a joint memorial and raise the flag. Across from them, a sand shovel is starting to dig the foundation for an apartment to be built on the lot.

Discussion

This is one of the most unusual films of the 1930s. It is an antiwar allegory, based on the novel, The Paul Street Boys, by Ferenc Molnar. Two groups of boys fight over a vacant lot. Adults are secondary characters. The main character is Nemecsek, the youngest and smallest boy. His goal is to be an equal with the other boys. He is brave and determined and ultimately admired by the boys of both sides. His death brings the two sides together. In his book "Souls Made Great Through Love and Adversity": The Film Work of Frank Borzage, Frederick Lamster discusses the central problem of a Borzage film: an individual, (or a small, tightly knit group,) set against a disruptive force grows in self knowledge, transcends the immediate surroundings, and discovers universal truths. In No Greater Glory, the death of Nemecsek brings peace to the boys, and they learn about loyalty, bravery, and determination. The film exposes the futility of violence; the masculine ideal of war is reduced to a battle between boy's clubs fighting over a vacant lot that the winning club will soon lose to an apartment building. Three excellent boy actors star in the film. By 1934, Jackie Searl and Frankie Darro had appeared in many films and, although young, were veteran actors. George Breakston had been in only one previous film, and in No Greater Glory he had the second, and most important, role of his career.