Manpower is a 1941 film noir directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Edward G. Robinson, Marlene Dietrich, and George Raft. The picture was written by Richard Macauley and Jerry Wald, and the supporting cast features Alan Hale, Frank McHugh, Eve Arden, Barton MacLane, Ward Bond, and Walter Catlett.
Robinson and Raft got into a fistfight on the set that was eagerly splashed all over the front pages of the nation's newspapers. Victor McLaglen was originally going to play Robinson's role, which would have made it a supporting part, and Raft reportedly resented sharing leading man status on the film as a result of Robinson being cast instead.
Raft chose Manpower over the remake of the 1931 pre-Code version of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, and the career-catapulting role of Sam Spade went to Humphrey Bogart instead.
The script is one of many reworkings of the plotline for a 1932 Robinson movie called Tiger Shark, in which Robinson played essentially the same part, only as a tuna fisherman rather than an electric power lineman.
A leg injury causes Los Angeles power line worker Hank McHenry to give up field work and accept a promotion to foreman. His crew includes good friend Johnny Marshall and old Pop Duval.
Pop is killed during an ice storm. His daughter Fay's seeming indifference irritates Johnny, but Hank is attracted to her. A hostess in a nightclub, Fay accepts money from Hank and also his marriage proposal, even though she doesn't love him.
Before a project that takes them to Boulder Dam, an injury befalls Johnny. He is taken into Hank's home, where Fay makes a play for him. Johnny resists her. Fay decides to leave Hank, but after she is arrested in a raid at the club, Johnny pays her bail and Hank misconstrues the situation, believing Johnny has betrayed him.
During a work emergency, Hank climbs with his bad leg to reach Johnny and start a fight, during which Hank falls to his death. Johnny is left to decide whether he is attracted to Fay or repelled by her.Edward G. Robinson as Hank "Gimpy" McHenry
Marlene Dietrich as Faye Duval
George Raft as Johnny Marshall
Alan Hale, Sr. as Jumbo Wells
Frank McHugh as Omaha
Eve Arden as Dolly
Barton MacLane as Smiley Quinn
Ward Bond as Eddie Adams
Walter Catlett as Sidney Wipple
Production was marked by several conflicts between Raft and Robinson, mostly initiated by Raft. Raft verbally abused Robinson, and pushed him around the set. Raft later complained that Robinson tried to tell him how to act; he also felt the actor was miscast, preferring Victor McLaglen. The two actors appeared together again 14 years later for a film noir entitled A Bullet for Joey (1955).
Bosley Crowther wrote a positive review for the film, noting that the cast of the Warner Bros. film was outstanding. "With such exceptional material, the Warner blacksmiths couldn't help but make good—good, in this sense—meaning the accomplishment of a tough, fast, exciting adventure film." Channel 4's review of the movie notes the exciting setting makes it worth seeing, but goes on to pan the film: "Directed with the usual efficiency by Walsh, Manpower's weak script never manages to convince despite the setting and the strong cast."
The film was a solid box office hit.