Joe Smith, American (1942)

63 mins | Drama | February 1942

Director:

Richard Thorpe

Writer:

Allen Rivkin

Producer:

Jack Chertok

Cinematographer:

Charles Lawton

Editor:

Elmo Veron

Production Designer:

Cedric Gibbons

Production Company:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
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HISTORY

The opening credits contained the following written prologue: "This story is about a man who defended his country. His name is Joe Smith. He is an American. This picture is a tribute to all Joe Smiths." HR news items contribute the following information about the production: For several months prior to the start of production, Dore Schary was set to direct the picture based on "his own yarn" (which may have meant that he was also set to write the screenplay). Schary was also said to have been given cooperation by Lowell Mellett, head of public relations for the U.S. government's "defense branch." The extent of Mellet's contribution to the released film has not been determined. Van Heflin was at one time set to star in the title role. Some shooting took place at two different locations in the Montebello oil district in Southern California and, according to an M-G-M press release, the bowling alley sequence was shot at the Culver City Bowling Alley, close to the M-G-M lot in Culver City.
       Although some modern sources indicate that actress Ava Gardner made her motion picture debut in the film, she was not identifiable in the viewed print. Other modern sources indicate that she made her debut in the 1941 film H. M. Pulham, Esq. (see above), which was filmed just prior to Joe Smith, American . NYT film critic Bowsley Crowther gave the film an "honorable mention" to his "Ten Best Films of the Year" list, and several consumer magazines praised the low-budget film for its excellence. According to an article in HR on 27 ... More Less

The opening credits contained the following written prologue: "This story is about a man who defended his country. His name is Joe Smith. He is an American. This picture is a tribute to all Joe Smiths." HR news items contribute the following information about the production: For several months prior to the start of production, Dore Schary was set to direct the picture based on "his own yarn" (which may have meant that he was also set to write the screenplay). Schary was also said to have been given cooperation by Lowell Mellett, head of public relations for the U.S. government's "defense branch." The extent of Mellet's contribution to the released film has not been determined. Van Heflin was at one time set to star in the title role. Some shooting took place at two different locations in the Montebello oil district in Southern California and, according to an M-G-M press release, the bowling alley sequence was shot at the Culver City Bowling Alley, close to the M-G-M lot in Culver City.
       Although some modern sources indicate that actress Ava Gardner made her motion picture debut in the film, she was not identifiable in the viewed print. Other modern sources indicate that she made her debut in the 1941 film H. M. Pulham, Esq. (see above), which was filmed just prior to Joe Smith, American . NYT film critic Bowsley Crowther gave the film an "honorable mention" to his "Ten Best Films of the Year" list, and several consumer magazines praised the low-budget film for its excellence. According to an article in HR on 27 Oct 1942, Joe Smith, American was one of ten films selected by the East and West Association to be sent for exhibition in Asian countries as "most nearly representative of life in the U.S." The 1959 M-G-M release The Big Operator , directed by Charles Haas and starring Mickey Rooney and Steve Cochran, was based on the same Paul Gallico short story, but that film was centered on racketeering and trade unions and updated to a late 1950s setting. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
10 Jan 1942.
---
Daily Variety
7 Jan 42
p. 3.
Film Daily
7 Jan 42
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jan 41
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
8 May 41
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Jul 41
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Oct 41
pp. 3-4.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Oct 41
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Oct 41
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Oct 41
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Nov 41
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Nov 41
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jan 42
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Oct 42
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Dec 42
p. 4.
Look
4 Jun 1942.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
10 Jan 42
p. 449.
New York Times
2 Apr 42
p. 27.
Variety
7 Jul 42
p. 44.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Assoc
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
SOUND
Rec dir
MAKEUP
Makeup created by
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit mgr
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the short story "The Adventures of Joe Smith, American" by Paul Gallico in Hearst's International-Cosmopolitan (Dec 1940).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
February 1942
Production Date:
20 October--11 November 1941
Copyright Claimant:
Loew's Inc.
Copyright Date:
13 January 1942
Copyright Number:
LP11037
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Sound System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
63
Length(in feet):
5,644
Length(in reels):
6
Country:
United States
PCA No:
7922
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

Joe Smith, a "buck an hour" crew chief on the assembly line at a Los Angeles defense plant, is an ordinary guy, who loves his wife Mary and fourth-grade son Johnny, and manages to pay his $28.80 monthly mortgage on time. After he and others on the line are questioned about their personal lives by their boss, Blake McKettrick, and two men from Washington, Freddie Dunhill and Gus, Joe is summoned by plant president Mr. Edgerton. Joe is asked to quickly draw details of a blue print, after seeing it very briefly. When he successfully does so, Edgerton, Freddie and Gus reveal that they want him to work on a top secret bomb sight with a raise in pay, but no one can know what he is doing, not even Mary. At home, Mary tells Joe that Johnny has spent his 25 cent allowance in one day and refuses to say why. Joe cannot find out the reason either. Even when Joe threatens to send Johnny to bed with no supper, Johnny firmly states that he has to keep his secret. That night, Mary relents and gives Johnny something to eat. When Joe does the same, he finds what the tender-hearted Mary has done and realizes how lucky he is. On the drive to school the next day, Johnny tells Joe he likes history and admires patriot Nathan Hale for saying "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country." As Joe drives away from the plant that evening, he realizes that he is being followed, but cannot shake the car, which forces him off the road. Four men then take ... +


Joe Smith, a "buck an hour" crew chief on the assembly line at a Los Angeles defense plant, is an ordinary guy, who loves his wife Mary and fourth-grade son Johnny, and manages to pay his $28.80 monthly mortgage on time. After he and others on the line are questioned about their personal lives by their boss, Blake McKettrick, and two men from Washington, Freddie Dunhill and Gus, Joe is summoned by plant president Mr. Edgerton. Joe is asked to quickly draw details of a blue print, after seeing it very briefly. When he successfully does so, Edgerton, Freddie and Gus reveal that they want him to work on a top secret bomb sight with a raise in pay, but no one can know what he is doing, not even Mary. At home, Mary tells Joe that Johnny has spent his 25 cent allowance in one day and refuses to say why. Joe cannot find out the reason either. Even when Joe threatens to send Johnny to bed with no supper, Johnny firmly states that he has to keep his secret. That night, Mary relents and gives Johnny something to eat. When Joe does the same, he finds what the tender-hearted Mary has done and realizes how lucky he is. On the drive to school the next day, Johnny tells Joe he likes history and admires patriot Nathan Hale for saying "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country." As Joe drives away from the plant that evening, he realizes that he is being followed, but cannot shake the car, which forces him off the road. Four men then take Joe, who is soon tied up and blindfolded in a darkened room. The men demand information on the bomb sight, but Joe refuses. As they beat him, Joe tries to think of other, happier things, including his courtship of Mary and Johnny's birth. Meanwhile, at a bowling alley, Joe's friends, Eddie, Sammy and Roy, are concerned that Joe has not shown up and decide to go to his house. Mary is worried, as is Johnny, who thinks that his "secret" has made Joe stay away. When Roy, Eddie and Sammy arrive, they tell Mary about Joe's very secret promotion. In the darkened room, the torture is finally too much for Joe, who screams out that he will tell them everything. When they give him a pad of paper, though, it is decorated with a flag and the slogan "E pluribus unum," just like Johnny's at school, and Joe begins to think. When he asks for a pencil, he notices a snakeshead ring on one of the men's fingers, then refuses to draw the plans. They then give him sixty seconds to recant or be killed. While the seconds tick away, Joe thinks of Nathan Hale's sacrifice. When Joe again refuses, the men knock him onto the floor, and Joe determines to use all of his senses to help capture them, if he escapes. Joe is then taken from the room and driven away. As he goes, Joe memorizes everything, from the number of steps to the twists and turns of the road. Finally, when the car slows for a stop sign, Joe leaps out and the men cannot go back for him because the street is crowded. Fearing that he will forget everything, Joe writes the directions down in code on the sidewalk, then passes out. He is soon found by the police, and awakens in the hospital. Mary, Freddie and Gus are there and want him to rest, but Joe insists on retracing his car ride before he forgets. Following Joe's directions, they soon find the house in which Joe was held captive. After bursting in, they are able to arrest the men because of things Joe remembers about their voices, shoes and cigarettes, but the man with the snakeshead ring is not there. At home, Gus, Freddie, Edgerton and McKettrick congratulate Joe, and when McKettrick shakes his hand, Joe recognizes his distinctive ring. McKettrick is then quickly apprehended as he tries to escape. One month later, on Father's Day, Mary and Joe have a party with their friends and Johnny gives Joe his gift, a tie, revealing what his secret was. When his friends call Joe a hero, he scoffs, saying that there are no heroes in America, just people "who don't like being pushed around." +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.