Guess Whose Movies Are Back In Freeport

Aug 21, 2014

The 1933 film "Man's Castle" stars Spencer Tracy and Loretta Young. It's a lesser-known Tracy flick about a homeless woman who falls for his gruff character.

The movie will be shown during this weekend's third annual Spencer Tracy Film Festival at Freeport's Lindo Theatre.  

Why Freeport? Festival organizer Ed Finch says there's a link.

"While Spencer Tracy himself was born in Milwaukee," Finch said, "his parents were both born here, grew up here, and then -- off and on during his life -- they came back here. He spent a lot of summers in his youth here."

Finch says Tracy's parents are buried in Calvary Cemetery at Stephenson Road and Green Street.

Co-organizer Alan Wenzel says the connection makes Freeport a perfect place to remember the prominent family.

"We have folks who come to the movies who remember the Tracy family and remember stories of when the Tracy family was living here in Freeport," Wenzel said. "They share those after the movie. It's a nice time to interact with the audience and engage them in a conversation about the movie they just viewed."

Finch says choosing which films to show is a bit of an art. For this year's festival, he has included the biographical "Edison, The Man," with Tracy as the inventor; the World War II film "Malaya," with Tracy as a convicted felon; and the screwball comedy "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," where Tracy is a police captain and one of the few "serious" characters.

Finch likes to see if there's an upcoming anniversary for the original release date of a Tracy film. He also likes to mix Tracy's better-known films with more obscure ones.

Whether it's a well-known role, or a hidden gem, Finch says Spencer Tracy had a gift.

"He played characters who sort of had a twinkle in the eye," Finch said. "They were very likeable, even when he played the 'bad guy,' or the antagonist in a movie. You sort of kind of liked him. I think part of it was his Irish background. He was just a genial person. That comes across the screen all of the time."

Wenzel says Tracy was also a behind-the-scenes talent.

"He was kind of known for being a one-take person. He would get it right the first time, and directors liked working with him because they didn't have to do take after take," Wenzel said.

Wenzel and Finch have spent years researching trivia about the actor to share before the beginning of each film. That includes a little gossip of Tracy's personal life. As a typical Hollywood star, he had plenty. But Finch says it's the movies that really stand the test of time.

"Seeing all of these films from early in his career, and the kind of work he was doing, has really been an education for me. So at this point, until I see all 70 of them, I probably won't be able to pick a favorite."

Maybe that's not such a bad, bad, bad, bad problem to have.