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Beggar on Horseback (1925)

Neil McRae, an impoverished composer, loves Cynthia Mason, but fearing poverty, proposes to the wealthy Gladys Cady. One night, he dozes in an armchair and has a nightmare of a wedding and ... See full summary »



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Cast overview:
Erwin Connelly ...
Gertrude Short ...
Gladys Cady
Prince in Pantomime
Princess in Pantomime
Homer Cady (as James Mason)
Frederick Sullivan ...
Dr. Rice


Neil McRae, an impoverished composer, loves Cynthia Mason, but fearing poverty, proposes to the wealthy Gladys Cady. One night, he dozes in an armchair and has a nightmare of a wedding and life with Gladys. In robe and top hat, he's swept into a church by an exuberant master of ceremonies, the pews fill with guests, a band of frogs play, and the bride enters with her glum father, who glares at Neil and calls him a fortune hunter, and her mother, who sits in a rocker and looks approving. After the revelry, the couple heads to life in her parents' home. Neil calls out for Cynthia. Can he compose himself, and find the courage to seek love over comfort? Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

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Release Date:

24 August 1925 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Honra ao Mérito  »

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Technical Specs


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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Never remade in the sound era. See more »

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User Reviews

Weird nightmare comedy
25 July 2002 | by (Minffordd, North Wales) – See all my reviews

During World War One, weird expressionist stage dramas became fashionable in Europe. The most notable of these was "Gas" by Georg Kaiser, a two-part play which was one of the main inspirations for Fritz Lang's brilliant film "Metropolis". Eventually the expressionist vogue caught on among American playwrights, most notably in Elmer Rice's "The Adding Machine" (1923), a fantasy drama which begins in a mundane setting and gradually gets more bizarre and surreal. "Beggar on Horseback" was a hit Broadway comedy of 1924, written by George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly, expressly intended as a parody of the expressionist dramas that were so trendy just then. Its irrelevant title quotes an old proverb: "Set a beggar on horseback and he will ride to the devil."

The film version of "Beggar on Horseback" is very faithful to the play. Edward Everett Horton portrays Neil McRae, a sensitive composer who wants to write great music but who cranks out jazz tunes to pay the rent. He's engaged to Gladys Cady, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist whose company manufactures widgets. (The word "widget" was invented by Kaufman for this play: nowadays, in Britain, a "widget" is a type of beer-opener.) Mr Cady offers McRae an executive position in his widget factory ... providing he gives up all this nonsense about composing music. Should McRae barter his soul for financial security? He goes to bed, hoping that his dreams will bring a solution to his dilemma.

The main action of the comedy is McRae's nightmare, which parodies his real-life dilemma but turns increasingly surreal until McRae becomes so crazed that he picks up an enormous knife and kills Gladys and her mother. (This is shocking, but we know that it's only a nightmare ... not an actual event.) Still trapped in his nightmare, McRae is brought into a Kafkaesque courtroom to stand trial for murder. When he asks for a higher court, the judge grabs a jackhandle and he jacks up his own bench towards the ceiling... a HIGHER court, geddit?

During the "real life" opening scenes of the original play, Gladys's oafish brother Homer wore a bright yellow necktie, which - during the nightmare sequences - gradually became larger and larger until Homer was finally wearing a yellow tie larger than himself. That colourful detail could not transfer to this monochrome film. Here, when we first meet Gladys's father Mr Cady (before the nightmare begins) he wears chequerwork golf stockings. During McRae's nightmare, the black and white pattern gradually spreads across Cady's body until he's dressed entirely in chequerwork. Homer Cady is hilariously played by James Mason ... not the famous English actor, but a Paris-born American silent-film actor of the same name.

Eventually we get an example of Neil McRae's "serious" music, for a pantomime called "A Kiss in Xanadu". The Prince and Princess of Xanadu are bored with each other and bored with life in the palace, so they (separately) disguise themselves as beggars and wander out into the streets of Xanadu, where they meet without recognising each other. They fall in love and have a night of passion, after which they part company and they separately return to the palace ... where they resume their true identities (and their bored lives) without realising whom they've encountered. Well, who cares? This play-within-the-play is boring and twee. It probably didn't work too well in the Broadway version, and it certainly doesn't work in this silent film. A great deal of fuss is made over McRae's talents as a composer, but (as there's no soundtrack) we never hear his music.

Edward Everett Horton is excellent, and utterly believable, as the leading man. He's now so well-known for playing "nelly" roles and dithering manservants, it's a delight to see him playing a virile young man with an eye for the ladies. "Beggar on Horseback" deserves to be better known, even though it parodies a brief theatrical vogue which is now almost entirely forgotten. This film is very funny and has many startling visual effects.

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