Jeanne Eagels plays the bored and restless Leslie Crosbie who turns to another man, Geoffrey Hammond (Herbert Marshall) for attention when neglected by her husband Robert (Reginald Owen). ... See full summary »
Jean de Limur
Biopic of the famed British Prime Minister focusing on his concern about Russia's growing interest in the Indian subcontinent and his attempts to buy the Suez Canal. He sees the Canal as the key strategic resource in maintaining the Empire in the East but is unpopular in many quarters. With antisemitism rife at the time, Disraeli finds little support for his plan to purchase the canal or his foreign policy in general. There is no doubt that the Russians are plotting against British interests and he is surrounded by spies, even in his office at 10 Downing St. When the Bank of England refuses to finance the purchase of the available shares he turns to private sources to raise the available cash only to find the conspirators one step ahead of him. Written by
George Arliss at 61, Joan Bennett at 19. Great acting, great looks
"The less a politician does the fewer mistakes he makes." The actual line is "prime minister" in place of "politician" but the same amused skepticism holds true. The speaker is British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, played by George Arliss. Disraeli was a clever and ambitious politician, heartily disliked by a great section of the English ruling class because his background was Jewish, "not one of us, you know," cleverer than anyone, and with a vision of British imperial destiny that encouraged many and made many more nervous. George Arliss was as much a film phenomenon as Dizzy was a political marvel. Arliss gained a great stage reputation in England, came to America and repeated the trick on Broadway, made a handful of silent films to acclaim and, with his first talking movie, this one, won an Academy Award for best actor. He was a slight man without an ounce of fat on his bones. He looked his age. He had a narrow skull, prominent cheekbones, thin lips and a regal nose. With a commanding acting style and diction as precise as an accountant's penmanship, Arliss is definitely old school by today's standards. I'll tell you something. When he's on screen you don't notice anyone else. When he's off screen, you realize you're waiting for him to reappear. From Disraeli in 1929 to his last movie, Dr. Syn, in 1937 when he was 69, he became the most successful older actor Hollywood has ever seen, before or since. He made 19 movies in those eight years, many of them historical dramas. He played everything from the Duke of Wellington to Cardinal Richelieu to Voltaire to Alexander Hamilton. His wife had played opposite him in a number of his stage and film vehicles. Her sight had been failing and when at last she became blind in 1937, he immediately left acting. They returned to London and spent the rest of their days in honored retirement. He died in 1946; she followed him four years later.
Why all this about a long gone and long forgotten actor? Partly it's because what makes his movies so watchable (I've seen three) is him. He knew exactly what he was doing and he is memorable at it. Mainly it's because he had a remarkable life as an actor and should be remembered by at least a few. As Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to miss out on a lot of good stuff," or something like that.
Disraeli was a proved success for Arliss. He played the drama many times on stage and again in a silent version. It's the story of Disraeli's determination to secure ownership of the Suez Canal for Britain. Among other advantages, the canal will provide a short and secure route to India and beyond. The Bank of England opposes him. Imperial Russia is out to thwart him using spies and skullduggery. And he has a window of opportunity of only three weeks to seal the deal. Disraeli uses every trick and every bluff he can think of to impose his will. And he still has time to encourage the love match between two young people he is quite fond of. We have the lovely, 19-year-old Lady Clarissa Pevensey (played by the lovely, 19-year-old Joan Bennett) and the well-intentioned but stuffy 25-year-old Lord Charles Deeford (Anthony Bushell). All turns out well, and Queen Victoria is pleased.
The movie is dated, declarative and stagy. Still, Arliss gives his man so much charm and wit, so much cleverness and power that the movie becomes something more than an artifact. So, if nothing else, consider watching it to observe a great actor. Or at least to see a teen-aged Joan Bennett.
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