Step by Step is a short, confusing movie that feels like a Simpsons style mockery of a 1940s film. Lawrence Tierney 45 years before Reservoir Dogs plays a young man returning home from war. He goes swimming and meets a happening lady. After trying to meet up with her again, he discover she’s been replaced by a fake. This leads to some light breaking and entering to discover the truth. Cue the local cops and some intrigue to get this one to the final reel.
Lawrence Tierney is fun to watch in Step by Step. Having watched him in sitcoms and Reservoir Dogs as a teenager, it’s odd to see him as a young person. He has always seemed gruff, so I can see why RKO gave him a dog in the movie. But, it doesn’t soften him. He just wants to meet the local hot chick, fight the enemy and save the day. That’s just it, let’s talk about the bad guys.
Step by Step goes out of its way not to call the bad guys out. Are they American saboteurs, Commies, Nazis-in-hiding or something else? You never find out, but they just want to cause damage and hurt people. Their targeting of a local Senator seems to come out of nowhere, but they’re doing it and the police don’t want to hear about it. This is some crazy stuff, but the film doesn’t give you a chance to think about it.
They don’t make movies this short anymore. That’s mainly because if you hit two hours with a movie like this, people would have been MST3King back in the day. Step by Step is a movie about a guy wanting to have sex with a strange lady, then she gets him involved in espionage. But, it’s all defined with about as much grace and narrative construction as a sitcom episode where the gang visit Disney World or Paris.
The desire to explore the odd and nonsensical fantasies in a time of happy, but painful surroundings is why I love the mid 1940s cinema. Movies are the windows to our cultural souls. Regardless of the time, they always reflect the psychological wants that people never directly express. RKO was the best at getting to the root of these matters, as they didn’t have the studio system prestige. They were a second-tier studio that made things that audiences wanted to watch.
It’s not easy being the popular choice, but it tends to be profitable. Look at what dominates the multiplex, Netflix and other content platforms. For as much as we love complex stories that tug at the heart and brain, there are still people keeping TLC in business. Whether it’s watching people pop pimples or ugly people travel overseas to meet emotionally damaged people, people love goofy crap.
Step by Step thrived in its time period and it existed because the goofy people of today had to come from somewhere. As much as movies are cultural insight, they also show some truths about how people consume entertainment. Nobody is out to reinvent the wheel, but they will watch a fat guy marry conjoined twins if it makes them feel good.
Warner Archive brings Step by Step to Blu-ray with a vintage short and cartoon. I’m not sure if these were the actual shorts shown with the movie back in 1946. But, it feels appropriate. The A/V Quality is amazing for a film of its kind and age. However, I felt some interior shots were a little softer than they should have been.