Man’s Castle (1933) Review

Proof That It’s Pre-Code:

  • Set in Bagville on the Hudson River, a shanty town. “Privacy, no taxes, running water– a whole river of it.”
  • Skinny dipping! You’ll get some nice Loretta Young sideboob out of that, too.
  • “You’re a bag of bones… You’ll never be a real women if you don’t fill out!” Haha, god, times change.
  • There’s some adultery in here, a shotgun wedding, and it is all a-okay.
  • Our characters mull the fact that over 12,000,000 people out of work. That’s a 10% employment rate in a country without welfare, social security or much in the ways of a social safety net.

Poverty is a funny thing. On one hand, there’s a certain amount of freedom afforded to anyone whose schedule escapes the dictates of a job. On the other, you’re broke and miserable, kind of making all of that free time taste significantly less sweet.

That’s not the case for Bill, whose take on the Great Depression is a surprisingly optimistic one. He may live in the city’s slums, but the road is his friend. He’s the man who sees the freedom as an opportunity, and the dark night sky as the blanket.

This all comes crashing down when he meets Trina, a beautiful dame with with a demure little smile. After a night out on the town– Bill wearing a suit he’s wearing to advertise a restaurant and Trina perfectly amused by his rejections of modern conventions. As will happen, they end up skinny dipping in the Hudson, and soon both are living in a shack of their own.

Trina’s even gone so far as to build in a retractable window above the bed for whenever Bill feels claustrophobic. It’s fairly often.

If he's inside, he doesn't want to be.

Bill is played by Spencer Tracy as an eager jack-of-all trades. Is he a man typical of the Depression or an aberration? He’s resourceful and refuses to let life keep him down, but it’s strongly hinted that this was always his way. He’s not a man of the Great Depression, but one on the outside, lost and humbled.

Trina is Loretta Young and far more emblematic of their situation. When Bill finds her, she’s feeding her last crumbs of her last piece of bread to some pigeons in the park. She can barely keep it together before he takes her out and explains to her his bohemian sense of living. She has the misfortune that befalls too many women: they understand the words but not the emotions. She realizes he must be free to be happy, and that for her to be happy she needs to tie him down.

Their situation is complicated by their lives in the slums. There’s the old drunkard, a cranky woman who is all too happy that Prohibition has ended. There’s the leering man, who watches Young skinny dip with a feverish glee and plots various ways to get her into various compromising positions. And then there’s the most interesting character, an old man who lives in the slums and keeps offering Bill a copy of his Bible to read.

I'm so in love with such a putz.

This sets up the movie to play something like a Capra movie– like You Can’t Take It With You with pride instead of money. The film’s end precludes the dramatic structure to extend this idea with two endings for two separate sets of characters: one set, including the villain, are treated to a ridiculous cliche, while our two leads are offered a simple solution to their dilemma– one so simple it’s almost stupefying.

But mostly Man’s Castle is about finding your place in the world with the one you love. Bill and Trina, through their ups and downs, connect in ways both subtle and beautiful. These are two people who escape the Depression through their bond, and it’s just as invigorating as you’d hope.


Danny lives outside Tokyo, Japan, with his lovely wife, adorable daughter, and two yappy dogs. He blogs bi-weekly at, a website dedicated to Hollywood films from 1930 to 1934, and can be found on Twitter @PreCodeDotCom.

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