Lost Film Files #4: Men of Steel, Starring Milton Sills

Men of Steel (1926)

Status: Unknown

Sorry, this is not a Superman movie. However, it just may be even better.

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Milton Sills’s character study is set in a steel mill, an angle that is heavily exploited by the First National marketing department. The film was universally praised for its realism and the performances of Sills and Doris Kenyon (who would become Mrs. Sills the same year this film was released). The picture did well at the box office. The posters and vintage ads certainly work their magic; I am dying to see this one!

This is what Photoplay had to say:

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A BOX OFFICE picture, if ever there was one. This new Milton Sills production has the sweeping background of a huge steel mill in operation, with the action taking place in the midst of massive vats of molten metal. These scenes, be it noted, are not faked. They were filmed, with the co-operation of the United States Steel Corporation, at the big mills near Birmingham, Ala.

It can be honestly said that Sills does his best work in “Men of Steel” since his romantic swashbuckler in “The Sea Hawk” and his convict in the now almost forgotten “Honor System.” In “Men of Steel” Sills plays a hunkey who fights his way to the top of the social ladder. It is an unusual characterization, reaching its high point in a remarkable scene in which the starving Jan Bokak steals a dinner from a dog.

Sills wrote ” Men of Steel,” adapting it from a short story, “United States Flavor,” by R. G. Kirk. It traces the progress of Jan Bokak, loved by two girls who do not realize they are sisters. One, Mary Berwick, has been raised in a worker’s shack, the other, Clare Pill, is the daughter of the steel king. The story culminates in a fight in a huge vat toward which a half-wit is propelling a massive ladle of molten steel.

Sills is ably supported by Doris Kenyon as Mary and May Allison as Clare. Both Miss Allison and Miss Kenyon look beautiful and give vigorous performances. Miss Allison plays a rich flapper with charming zest. Frank Currier and George Fawcett, too, are excellent as the magnate and his skipper pal. It is a whole picture of good performances.

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And more praise from Motion Picture Classic:

men-of-steel-milton-sills (7)AGAINST a most impressive background of steel mills — with molten metal serving as its piece de resistance, there is revealed a compelling picture that carries sound logic in it. In reality it presents a character study — a broad symbol being used which projects the inarticulate, but forceful steel worker determined to go through the crucible of a refining process of his own.

The picture has a tremendous fascination. One doesn’t know what is coming, tho it is easy to anticipate many significant dramatic happenings. It builds a compact narrative — which, while involved, is followed easily enough because of its vivid drama of men — and of the steel that molds them as well. The background aids in emphasizing the characters of the plot. In this background the eye catches giant cranes, roaring furnaces, flaming ore, gigantic buckets and shovels. These are the properties which give the film its significance.

There is no word one way or the other on whether this film survives. Check grandma’s attic!

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