movie review: The Cruel Tower

What did you watch? The 1956 drama The Cruel Tower

Is that like Mean Girls, but with architecture? Kinda?

The Cruel Tower is about tough as nails men who work, work some more, fight with each other, drink, fight with rival workers, and work some more, and occasionally kill each other when fightin’ and drinkin’ get in the way of workin’.

Tom is a drifter who is kicked off a freight train by more experienced hobos and left for dead. A group of contractors happen to find him in bad shape and take him in. They allow him to heal in the comfort in their trailer as part of the guilt trip to make him join their construction crew. Tom could probably leave any time he wants but he’s enamored with the sole lady of the group, Mary, that the other workers warn him about as being an evil entity. The men are hired to work on water tower, and could use an extra hand, so Tom eventually caves to assist and learn the ropes.

And learning the ropes literally, hoisting each other and tools up on a slippery and curved tower surface. These guys face death constantly, almost dying on the climb up or nearly knocking each other off hanging platforms by accident. Or, is it? See, the men gotta blow off steam, and make their way to nearby small town restaurants and make names for themselves by starting fights. The leader, Stretch, is chasing Mary constantly, yet gets upset when one of other guys in his crew is hooking up with his wife. So, one day Stretch is like “hey, other guy, you’re going to go up on this rope solo,” and the other guy is like “okay” and it’s pretty obvious that Stretched has rigged the rigging to come undone, and the guy dies.

Tom is mortified, and yet doesn’t just leave. He has no proof, he’s not a detective, but there’s a confrontation at the top of a tower between him and a drunk Stretch and Stretch admits it before falling to his own death. I guess that was Stretch’s way of solving things, and why he was always short a coworker here and there. With that matter resolved as the police show up, Tom and Mary leave to move back to her hometown to start a new life together.

This movie is WEIRD, but I kinda get it. I have watched people at not-trendy corner neighborhood bars where they’re high fivin’ and hugging each other one minute, and then punching each other over some misunderstanding the next minute, and then just as quickly again are best friends. I wonder if this was written as some diatribe about quick ends to hard living in post-war blue collar America. A rival group of contractors show up, one of whom starts shooting at Stretch’s group, and in the fight one of the assaulting group members is knocked out and left behind. That’s actually Alan Hale Jr. from Gilligan’s Island, and as soon as they dust him off he’s like “okay, I guess I work with Stretch now.” Is your life that nomadic?

It’s a dark movie, heavy on its tense mood between the group of men, close as brothers while working but despising each others’ existence once they’re back on the ground.

Is it good? Meh, it’s okay. It’s short. There’s not much to it beyond the workin’, carousin’, fightin’, and murder. I recognize Charles McGraw who plays Stretch from The Narrow Margin, for a clumsy murderer he’s pretty good in this. Several of the other actors appeared mostly in television, with many having guest parts on Perry Mason. It’s worth it for the performances, but I had one thought about the characters: Tom and Mary know they work for an awful man who bullies his employees. You don’t have to work for someone like that. There are other jobs. They recognized Stretch as a crappy guy from the getgo, they could have left at any time. Just sayin’.   

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