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Heroes for Sale on 35mm

Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park
1219 SW Park Avenue
Portland, OR 97205, US (map)



Wellman’s pessimistic 1933 film presents the story of Tom Holmes (Richard Barthelmess), a soldier whose heroism on the battlefield is credited to a well-to-do friend. Returning from war, Tom becomes addicted to morphine, kicks it, and goes through a series of successes followed by quick setbacks. Cynical nearly to a fault, Heroes for Sale is perhaps one of the most indicting films of the Great Depression, skewering the failure of both nationalist and socialist ideology when pitted against the suffering of the masses waiting in breadlines for their next meal (the film’s most famous line of dialogue is “it’s the end of America.”).

“The New Deal finale in the rain cannot wash away the downpour that floods what is not a Warner Brothers ‘Americanism story’ but an anti-Americanism story.”—Thomas Doherty, Pre-Code Hollywood.

This was one of the films featured in THE CONSCIENCE OF HOLLYWOOD: THE RISE OF SOCIAL PROTEST CINEMA, 1932-1937, a proposed OSU course, surveying six classic films that encompass social protest cinema in the 1930s.

The course would have explored how the issues of poverty, political corruption, xenophobia and workers’ rights are depicted in the cinema of 1930s Hollywood and how it reflected the culture at large. In many ways, America in the 21st century bears a remarkable resemblance to the America of the 1930s: a polarized political climate rife with economic disparity, homelessness, a legal system riddled with corruption, ethnic targeting and immigration worries–all topics that resonate with an eerie similarity to the travails of today's uncertain world.

Hollywood in the 30s, in all its uncanny and prescient wisdom, was quick to respond to the social injustices it perceived with a stream of hard-hitting and uncompromising entertainments designed to ignite the passions and fuel the hopes of beleaguered movie-goers across the country.