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Film / The Power and the Glory

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Don't listen, Tom!

The Power and the Glory is a 1933 drama film directed by William K. Howard, starring Spencer Tracy and Colleen Moore.

Tom Garner (Tracy) is a railroad magnate — or rather, was a railroad magnate, since the film starts with his funeral. His lifelong friend and right-hand-man Henry (Ralph Morgan) shuffles home sorrowfully from the funeral, only for Henry's widow to snap that she's glad Tom's dead, that he was a bad man who threw his first wife Sally (Moore) aside, that he's responsible for the deaths of 400 workers in a strike. Henry disagrees, and in a series of flashbacks relates the story of Tom's life and how it went from triumph to tragedy.

The Power and the Glory was a milestone in the careers of more than one person involved. Spencer Tracy's performance was hailed by critics, and this film helped propel Tracy, an up-and-coming leading man, to greater successes. Colleen Moore had been a huge star in the silent film era, who was attempting a comeback in talking films after a four-year hiatus. The poor box office of this film did not help her, and after making only two more movies she retired for good. The screenplay was written by none other than Preston Sturges, his first; he also got a then-unusual profit-sharing deal.

This film, with its Anachronic Order flashback structure, the use of a close confidante of the hero to tell the story, Tom's two wives (with the first wife dying and the second marriage going bad), and the whole idea of a Lonely at the Top businessman meeting a sad end, has often been cited as a strong influence on Citizen Kane. Orson Welles said he never saw this film but Herman J. Mankiewicz, the co-writer of the Kane screenplay and creator of the original story, did.

Compare The Sin of Nora Moran, a lower-budget movie released the same year, with a similar Anachronic Order fractured narrative.

This film has no connection to the 1940 novel The Power and the Glory, written by Graham Greene.


  • Ambition Is Evil: And as Sally bitterly notes, it wasn't even his ambition, it was hers. Tom was content to be a railroad laborer, but she pushed him to be greater. Tom's becoming a great businessman changed him and drove them apart.
  • Anachronic Order: The film jumps back and forth between three different time periods. There's the present-day setting of the Framing Device, there are the flashbacks of his early life and his romance with Sally, and there are the flashbacks of his later life as a railroad magnate with a Trophy Wife. And the film alternates between the two flashback timelines, cutting back and forth from Tom as a young man to Tom as an older man to Tom as a dead man in the framing device.
  • As You Know: Happens sometimes during Henry's dialogue with his wife, like when she cites how many workers were killed during the strike.
  • Curse Cut Short: When Henry mentions Tom's death to the doorman, the doorman says "I'm glad he croaked, the old—" only for Henry to shoot back with "Don't you talk about him that way!"
  • Dead Sparks: Tom and Sally were once deeply in love but later, after they've become rich and Tom has become a great businessman, their marriage has descended into sniping. Sally begs Tom to take her on a trip to Europe so they can re-connect, but it's too late; Tom has fallen in love with Eve. Tragedy ensues.
  • Framing Device: A grief-stricken Ralph tells Tom's story after his wife says that Tom deserved his fate.
  • Impairment Shot: The camera blurs during a board meeting after Tom finds out the truth about Eve. He can't concentrate.
  • Ironic Echo: Right after finding out that Tom has cheated on her, and right before she kills herself, Sally dazedly says "Why shouldn't you be in love, do what you want to just once before you die?" Right after finding out that Eve has cheated on him, and right before he kills himself, Tom says this same line.
  • Lonely at the Top: Tom reaches the peak of success, but only after his first wife was Driven to Suicide, his second wife cheated on him with his own son, and his little son turned out not to be his. He realizes he has nothing, and kills himself.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: The first flashbacks in the earlier storyline show Tom and Henry as children, as small, bookish Henry makes a friend of bigger, stronger Tom.
  • Name and Name
  • Never Learned to Read: Tom's neglectful father doesn't send him to school, and thus he grows to adulthood not knowing how to read. This is how Sally and Tom fall in love, as she is a schoolteacher who undertakes to teach him how to read.
  • No Name Given: Henry's wife's name is never spoken.
  • Not Actually His Child: Tom's suicide comes after he learns that not only is Eve cheating on him, but their baby boy is actually his grandson, Eve's son by her lover Tom Jr.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Tom and Sally each have big news. Tom thinks they're talking about his promotion to head of a bridge-building project while Sally thinks they're talking about her being pregnant. This continues until Tom says he doesn't need any help and Sally wonders if they should get a doctor.
  • Plot Hole: Henry's narration recounts multiple scenes where he wasn't present.
  • Railroad Baron: Tom becomes one. It ruins his happiness.
  • Spurned into Suicide: Sally throws herself in front of a trolley car after finding out that Tom is in love with another woman. Tom shoots himself after finding out that Eve is cheating on him.
  • Starts with Their Funeral: Starts with Tom's funeral. A grieving Henry's outrage at other people expressing their dislike of Tom is what kicks the story off.
  • Title Drop: It's a line from the Lord's Prayer, spoken by Tom as Sally is giving birth. Earlier Sally sort of does this, talking about how she'd pushed Tom to gain "the power and the money."
  • Trophy Wife: After Tom executes a hostile takeover of another railroad, the railroad's former owner basically throws his sexy daughter Eve at Tom out of desperation. It works, as Tom marries Eve, who is young enough to be his daughter. It turns out to be a very bad idea.
  • Widow's Weeds: Eve is wearing a black dress and veil at the funeral, to let the audience know that it is a funeral.