35 user 14 critic

Heroes for Sale (1933)

Passed | | Drama, War | 17 June 1933 (USA)
A veteran fights drug addiction to make his way in the business world.


William A. Wellman


Robert Lord (screen play), Wilson Mizner (screen play)

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Richard Barthelmess ... Tom Holmes
Aline MacMahon ... Mary
Loretta Young ... Ruth
Gordon Westcott ... Roger
Robert Barrat ... Max (as Robert Barratt)
Berton Churchill ... Mr. Winston
Grant Mitchell ... George Gibson
Charley Grapewin ... Pa Dennis (as Charles Grapewin)
Robert McWade ... Dr. Briggs
G. Pat Collins ... Leader of Agitators (as George Pat Collins)
James Murray ... Blind Soldier
Edwin Maxwell ... Laundry Company President
Margaret Seddon Margaret Seddon ... Jeanette Holmes
Arthur Vinton ... Captain Joyce
Robert Elliott ... 'Red' Squad Policeman #1


The saga of Tom Holmes - a man of principles - from the Great War to the Great Depression. Will he ever get a break? His war heroics earn fame and a medal for someone else, and his wounds result in a morphine addiction that costs him a job, his reputation in his home town, and months in a clinic. He goes to Chicago, where he's enterprising and dedicated to his work and his fellow workers, but an invention he champions results in the opposite of his intentions, leading to loss of life and an unjust imprisonment. After release, during the Depression, he must face local "red squads" and vigilante groups jousting out jobless men. Will anyone see his true heroic character? Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


What Good Are Medals On Tortured Breasts? (Print Ad-Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,((Pittsburgh, Penna.)) 7 July 1933)


Drama | War


Passed | See all certifications »





English | German

Release Date:

17 June 1933 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Breadline See more »


Box Office


$290,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


(copyright length) | (Turner library print)

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Director William A. Wellman used real hoboes for the fight scene and real laundry workers for the laundry scenes. See more »


When Ruth arrives by taxicab at the scene of the riot, the camera moves toward the cab and she is seen letting herself out from the back seat of the passenger side. However, after a jump cut, the driver is reaching around from the front seat of the cab and opening the door for her. See more »


Roger Winston: There I was, everybody making a hero of me. I accepted it because I didn't have guts enough to refuse it... It went on, and on - the honors piled up. And every one I got made it more impossible to tell the truth. I couldn't let go. I know that all my promotions and decorations belong to you. I know that I've stolen the credit from a real hero.
See more »


Semper Fidelis
(1888) (uncredited)
Music by John Philip Sousa
Played during announcement of the armistice
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User Reviews

stunning, important, social message film with beautiful filming and acting
8 September 2013 | by secondtakeSee all my reviews

Heroes for Sale (1933)

Okay, this is frankly a great movie. It's a "type" of movie that may or may not be your thing--a social conscience film. Warner Bros. in particular was famous for these, and the year before had made the astonishing "I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang."

In a way, this one owes a lot to that previous film. The theme is similar--a returning WWI vet runs into trouble adjusting to life at home. And the progression is similar, as this leading man goes through huge ups and downs over many years. There are even similar devices used, like showing several places on the map as he wanders the country, showing his paychecks go up over the years (during a successful period), and using a dates to move the narrative ahead quickly.

The crisis in this movie is not a man wrongly accused of a crime, but a man struggling with morphine addiction from war injuries. Once he overcomes that he rises up but because of his compassion for the poor he's labelled a "Red" meaning a communist and is targeted again. The cycle gets worse and worse.

The leading man, Richard Barthelmess, is (like Paul Muni in "Fugitive") a real actor, less a matinée idol and more a compassionate, emotive performer. And he makes the movie complex and heartwrenching. His wife, when you get to that point, is a young, chipper Loretta Young, who is great, but even better is Young's sidekick, who has a growing part as the movie goes, Aline MacMahon. She represents the truest goodness of all the people in the movie, matching the more exaggerated kindness of Barthelmess.

Eventually the movies moves from 1918 (in the war, actual battle scenes) to 1933, with the depths of the Depression kicking in. And so a whole new kind of despair is on view--something the audience itself felt very much. That's something hard to remember or feel is that the audience was not only suffering much like the people in the movie, they had no idea (!!) when and if the suffering, the Depression, would end. Like "Fugitive," this movie ends with that despair on screen.

But boy is this well made. Well photographed, great modern sound, and wonderful direction by the undervalued great Hollywood master William Wellman. Wellman is one of a handful of terrific directors who never developed his own style outside of what the studio was creating as an institution. But for about twelve years or so (up to "Ox-Bow Incident") he made, on and off, some really terrific, classic, still-powerful movies. "Heroes for Sale" is one of them.

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