Arlen Shines, but Powell Disappoints as a Listless Heavy
I've come to the conclusion the people don't rate a review on IMDb on the basis of whether they found it useful, or even whether they agreed or disagreed with the reviewer's comments on the movie itself, but strictly on the basis that the reviewer has either praised a star who is no longer regarded as with-it, or demoted a star who is regarded as one of Hollywood's super-elite. I made both mistakes with the following review. I praised Richard Arlen and demoted William Powell even though Powell himself often said that his characterization in this movie was not a performance he was proud of, and that he was simply tired of playing the villain. Anyway, although Louise Brooks always regarded Richard Arlen as one of the least capable actors in Hollywood, Arlen was in fact extremely charismatic in the right part. Oddly enough, it was the simple, easy, one-dimensional parts like his role in "Beggars of Life" that had directors like Wellman tearing their hair in frustration. But give Dick a complicated what-she-didn't-know-was, and he was terrific. His charming performance in this movie is an excellent example of the skill that enables him to carry off the acting honors with seeming ease, outclassing both William Powell (whose lack of enthusiasm at once again playing the heavy is patently obvious) and even Bebe Daniels (who plays on just the one hysterical note throughout with no subtlety whatever). To make the screenplay work, Bebe should at least partly meet her match in Powell. But she doesn't. She walks all over him from the first, and this destroys any comic tension in the plot. It's not until she comes up against Heinie Conklin that we find an actor who can equal Arlen in keeping her at bay. Director La Cava and photographer J. Roy Hunt do their best to keep up the pace and give the plot developments much-needed credibility and atmosphere, but finally go all out instead for an over-the-top, slapstick conclusion. Available on both an excellent Grapevine DVD and a just barely watchable Alpha.
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