World War I was supposed to be “The war to end all wars.” Nothing before had ever been witnessed or fought. The entire western world, except for the United States, was in shambles. Old Victorian traditions fell apart mostly for the better and young men and women were trying to find their modern place in the world. Before World War II, literature and Hollywood cranked out stories set either during the First World War or after. From what I know and have seen it seems that MGM was the master at producing stories set during and after those tumultuous years. One of the studio’s films centered after the Great War is Three Comrades.
Three young friends- Erich (Robert Young), Otto (Franchot Tone), and Gottfried (Robert Young)- return home to Germany after fighting in The Great War. Gottfried is upset that he fought to protect his people and now they are all hoodlums fighting and destroying businesses.
For Erich’s birthday they decide to go out in their car and have a good time together. On the road they were apparently driving too slow for another driver. Both cars race each other. They beat the other driver. When they stop their cars they introduce each other. The driver’s name is Breuer (Lionel Atwill) and he was driving with a lovely young woman named Patricia (Margaret Sullivan). Erich likes Patricia and the other two can see he does. Patricia leaves with Breuer but before they can part Erich gets her number. Back at home some time later Gottfried asks Erich if he still has Patricia’s number. Erich says he does not when he really does. He gives Patricia a call and he likes her so much he is awkward on the phone. Erich manages to ask Patricia out to dinner. They go out to dinner the following night. Otto and Gottfried show up. Otto has a nice talk with Patricia.
The three friends bought a taxi in addition to their mechanic shop. Gottfried had the car out one night and was followed home after one of his political meetings. Someone comes in the middle of the night and stripes the car. After this Gottfried tells the head of the group that he can no longer be a member it is not safe for him anymore. As he and Otto leave the group’s headquarters two men shoot at Gottfried.
Patricia confesses to Otto one day that when she was young she was very sick and now the sickness has returned. She does not want to marry Erich because she is afraid she will not live long. Otto tells her to go through with marrying Erich and not to tell him how sick she really is. Erich and Patricia get married. While on their honeymoon Patricia collapses. Otto finds her doctor and drives him as fast as possible to get to her in time. The doctor tells Otto to tell Erich that Patricia needs to get to a sanitarium by the middle of October at the latest. Months go by and the middle of October comes and Patricia has not been taken to a sanitarium. She never told Erich she needed to go.
A riot breaks out in the city. Gottfried is shot and killed. Erich and Otto witnessed the shooting. Otto goes crazy looking for the shooter. He finds the man and kills him.
Patricia eventually tells Erich she needs to go to the sanitarium. There she will have an operation that will save her life. The surgery will cost them around ten thousand marks. Erich does all he can to come up with the money. Otto sold his beloved car to help. Patricia, not wanting to suffer and not wanting Erich to worry about her, does something she was not supposed to do so soon after her surgery and dies.
Robert Taylor, Margaret Sullivan, Franchot Tone, and Robert Young had amazing chemistry. I honestly do not believe I have ever seen a cast in a film that has had such perfect chemistry. Watching them act together you could believe the characters Taylor, Tone, and Young played were all the best of friends and that Erich really loved Patricia. Their chemistry makes and their fantastic acting makes you care deeply for their characters. Lionel Atwill was great as always. He had playing a stiff, stern man down to a perfected science.
Three Comrades is a weepy melodrama but one that was so well made, written, and acted that it keeps you glued to the screen. Three Comrades is based off a book written by Erich Maria Remarque with the screenplay by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This story could not have been written anyone better than Remarque and Fitzgerald. The two authors excellently captured the mood of World War I and its aftermath like no one else did. This is one of the only films that Fitzgerald completed and received screen credit for. Three Comrades is a wonderfully made film that should be better known.