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Wednesday, August 10, 2022
Vidor conceived of An American Romance as the third installment, following The Big Parade and Our Daily Bread, of his war-wheat-and-steel trilogy. The film begins in the late 19th century as a saga of immigration, tracking the journey of an indefatigable Czech farmer as he travels on foot from Ellis Island to the iron pits of Minnesota, later journeying to the foundries of Pittsburgh and, ultimately, the heights of manufacturing in Detroit. An American Romance is also a hymn to industry itself, with Vidor paralleling the refinement of metal with the refinement of an individual, and peppering the narrative with asides about the particulars of how the raw materials are processed. Like his hero, the director was ever-tinkering, and in this instance we see him testing the psychological effects of the film’s shifting color palette, which lightens gradually as the work proceeds. His ambition for the wartime production was “a wide-scope film of American know-how and productivity,” a movie “to show what America is really about.” Print courtesy of the George Eastman Museum.