Steel Against the Sky (1941)
This “B” movie in every sense of the word actually boasts a pretty well known cast including Alexis Smith Lloyd Nolan Gene Lockhart Howard da Silva Edward Brophy and even Jackie Gleason & John Ridgely uncredited. Unfortunately the drama is rather routine leaving this viewer uninvolved and the comedy is second rate slapstick at best. The story has all the typical elements: some suspense generated from the danger of building large suspension bridges like the Golden Gate a love triangle and some “sidekick” humor – none of which are particularly compelling. It’s hard to decide whether the surprisingly (given the actors) substandard acting or special effects are the primary disappointment in this clunker.
Rocky Evans (Nolan) is the eldest of three brothers in a working class family who were raised by their widower father ‘Pop’ (Edward Ellis). One of his younger brothers Pete (Brophy playing his typical wisecracking sidekick role) works with & for foreman Rocky as they follow in Pop’s footprints in the dangerous profession of building high rise bridges. Gleason’s cameo is as a tipsy steel worker buying too many cigarettes from the diner’s machine. Rocky’s youngest brother Chuck (Craig Stevens) is the “black sheep” of the family a dreamer with ideas trying to find a quick way to riches. His latest scheme involves a Professor (Walter Catlett doing a cheap S.Z. Sakall impression if I’ve ever seen one) who’s trying to invent a steel substitute he calls “samsonite”. Although this 75+ minute film may have been too short without the Professor’s scenes it certainly would have been better!
Rocky has had his eye on his boss’s (Lockhart) daughter Helen (Smith) for a long time though Helen has never thought of Rocky as more than an friendly acquaintance. Rocky actually Helen avoid a driving violation ticket from a police officer (Ridgely). In a scene which doesn’t come across as funny as the film-makers must have thought it would be Helen meets Chuck after she’d been invited home by Rocky for a home cooked meal made by Pop. Their meal is interrupted by explosions in the basement made by the Professor and his experiments. Chuck later escorts Helen home in a contrived scene since it’s in Helen’s car. Even though Helen makes Chuck feel guilty for not doing an honest day’s work like his brothers it’s clear that some chemistry has developed between the two. And what do you know Chuck shows up at the bridge site to start working there the next day.
Due to a weather reports received by “Lockhart” he must hire more workers to try and complete the bridge before a big winter storm hits. Bugs Little (da Silva) who’d earlier been fired by Rocky for his drinking on the job uses the opportunity to sneak attack his former foreman. Chuck earns some respect by stopping the fight and saving Bugs’s life catching him as he’d fallen off the high rise. Of course Rocky then learns of Helen’s affection for Chuck and this leads to several scenes of conflict and a falling out between the brothers. Almost all of these scenes are ridiculous perhaps the silliest being the one between Pop and Helen. But after the storm another “high wire” heroic effort by Chuck will lead to a reconciliation and the happy ending “we” all want.