They Gave Him a Gun

They Gave Him a Gun is a 1937 American crime drama film directed by W. S. Van Dyke and starring Spencer Tracy, Gladys George, and Franchot Tone. The picture bears a resemblance to later films noir in its dark theme regarding the struggles and failures of a man trying to take a criminal shortcut to the American dream. The screenplay was written by Cyril Hume, Richard Maibaum, and Maurice Rapf, based on the 1936 book of the same name by William J. Cowen.[2][3]

They Gave Him a Gun
Theatrical release poster
Directed byW. S. Van Dyke
Produced byHarry Rapf
Written byCyril Hume
Richard Maibaum
Maurice Rapf
Based onThey Gave Him a Gun
1936 novel
by William J. Cowen
StarringSpencer Tracy
Gladys George
Franchot Tone
Music bySigmund Romberg
CinematographyHarold Rosson
Edited byBen Lewis
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • May 7, 1937 (1937-05-07)
Running time
94 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,313,000[1]


The movie begins in World War I when a young man named Jimmy (Franchot Tone) unexpectedly becomes a hero by killing all the Germans in a machine gun nest. But he is then severely wounded and spends time in a hospital being cared for by a nurse, Rose (Gladys George), with whom he falls in love. But she is really in love with Jimmy’s buddy, Fred (Spencer Tracy), a carnival barker. However, when Fred doesn't return from the battlefield, the two think he’s been killed (when he was merely captured) and so they make wedding plans. Then when Fred returns he decides to support Jimmy and Rose marrying, even though it breaks his heart. After the war Fred meets up with Jimmy again and discovers that Jimmy is a racketeer who uses his battle skills to commit murder. So he tells Rose, who had no idea. She then reports her husband to the police so he will go to prison and be reformed. But Jimmy breaks out of prison and tries to take Rose on the lam with him. At this point Fred intervenes. Jimmy, feeling undeserving, commits suicide by police.


Box office

According to MGM records the film earned $718,000 in the US and Canada and $595,000 elsewhere resulting in a profit of $253,000.[1]


  1. The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. Borde, Raymond; Chaumeton, Etienne (2002). A Panorama of American Film Noir (1941-1953). City Lights Books. p. 220. ISBN 0-872-86412-X.
  3. Goble, Alan, ed. (1999). The Complete Index to Literary Sources in Film. Walter de Gruyter. p. 980. ISBN 3-110-95194-0.

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