The Warner Archive September 24, 2019 DVD release of the 1939 B-movie "The Man Who Dared" is among the latest proof that many titles in the Archive catalog are both universal and timeless. This tale of a typical middle-class American family facing the choice of being witnesses for the prosecution or playing it safe by having selective amnesia is almost identical to the (reviewed) 1931 Walter Huston film "The Star Witness."
Our "Man" story begins with the standard Golden-Age exposition device of newspaper front-pages reporting wide-spread corruption in a typical mid-sized American city. The action soon shifts to the office of crusading DA Palmer, who is on the cusp of finally bringing down the crooked mayor.
Meanwhile, Hizzoner is meeting with his goon squad to discuss how to silence McCrary, an investigator who is a not-so-easily intimidated star witness.
These worlds collide when corrupt police official Nick Bartel and his man-in-blue group pay McCrary a home visit with extreme prejudice. This trio breaking into the garage of McCrary to "Pintoize" his ride interrupts the dinner of the three-generation Carters, who gather at the window to watch what is going on.
McCrary and his wife inadvertently escalating the timetable creates a desperate time for the malfeasors that leads to the desperate measure of again preventing the Carters from chowing down.
The ensuing dilemma relates to the Carters paying a heavy price for doing the right thing. The self-important middle-class middle-manager head-of-the-family is duped into going with the bad guys, who then use escalating means of persuasion to convince him to change his story. This failing leads to to kidnapping all-American boy Billy Carter as an effort to silence his family.
One fly in this ointment is a rebel without a cause who does not recognize the irony of strongly speaking out against capitalism while enjoying a good lifestyle courtesy of a father who is happy to play his role in that system.
This leads to building tension as the central trial commences while patriotic Spanish-American War veteran Ulysses "Grandpa" Potterfield demonstrates the wisdom of the old fool. The clear message on many levels is that the old ways are the best ways.
The larger messages that remain depressingly relevant today are that absolute power corrupts absolutely and that the one with the gold makes the rules. This is even more true today when "tyrants" on all levels have well-stocked propaganda arsenals and extreme defamation laws that silence many whistleblowers even more effectively than a physical beatdown.
An increased sense that speaking out will only end in devastating tears and recriminations is a further nail in the twin coffins of free speech and promoting what should be American values.