MP John Chilcote is addicted to drugs and its made his already unpleasant personality more so. When he lets down his party in Parliament by botching an important speech he walks out into a London fog and bumps into his identical cousin John Loder. When life - including a clinging mistress, a discarded wife, his demanding party bosses and his responsibilities as a gentleman - close in on him he chucks it all and finds his cousin in order to hide out in a drunken stupor. When his faithful servant follows him, the servant hits on the idea of Loder impersonating Chilcote until the latter can get his act together. Loder does, and gets emotionally entangled with Mrs. Chilcote and the mistress. Written by
Ron Kerrigan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
'The Masquerader', an obscure drama starring Ronald Colman, is very similar in its premise and subplots to Colman's great vehicle 'The Prisoner of Zenda' ... but he did 'The Masquerader' first. As in 'Zenda', Colman plays lookalike cousins who meet after many years of living in two different countries ... one of whom has an opportunity to take over the other's life, while falling in love with the other man's disenchanted lady.
Colman's main role is John Loder (no relation to the bland actor of that name), a disaffected journalist who returns to his native England after many years abroad. Loder's more successful cousin is Sir John Chilcote, a prominent member of Parliament. But Chilcote is secretly a morphine addict, and his addiction is becoming harder to conceal. Also concealed (not very well) is Chilcote's philandering relationship with Lady Joyce, while his estranged wife Eve (Lady Chilcote) is humiliated on the sidelines.
When Sir John's addiction causes him to collapse just before he introduces a crucial piece of legislation, Chilcote's loyal manservant Brock persuades Loder to impersonate his cousin. Loder, pretending to be Chilcote, gives an impassioned speech on the floor of Commons. Lady Chilcote has been estranged from her husband for years; now, attending this speech, she wonders why she is suddenly attracted to her husband again ... not realising that this is actually Loder impersonating Lady Chilcote's husband. (Shades of Princess Flavia in 'Zenda'.) Meanwhile, Loder (still pretending to be Chilcote) is utterly cold to Chilcote's mistress Lady Joyce, much to her bafflement.
SPOILERS COMING. Sir John dies of his addiction, without this becoming public knowledge. Brock persuades Loder to abandon his own life and become Sir John Chilcote permanently, appropriating Chilcote's wealth and reputation. Of course, this means that Loder will now be married to Lady Chilcote. Hmmm...
'The Masquerader' is not very plausible, yet it's quite enjoyable. Ronald Colman gives two distinctly different performances in the lookalike roles... although his turn as the drug-addicted Chilcote is a bit too overwrought. Moss Hart's smooth dialogue papers over some of the cracks in the plot line. Gregg Toland's photography is up to his usual high standard, and I was especially impressed by the scenes in which both Ronald Colmans are on screen at the same go. (Most dual-role movies made during this period featured flat sideline lighting during the double-exposure sequences; Toland avoids this.) Also well-photographed is a night sequence in Hyde Park (filmed on the Goldwyn Studio's backlot); Toland keeps the lighting bright enough for us to see the action, but dark enough to minimise the obvious fakery of the scenery. Creighton Hale is good in a small role. In the role of Lady Eve Chilcote, Elissa Landi is appropriately patrician (and slightly less blonde than usual), but her performance is weak. In the role of Lady Joyce, Juliette Compton is so dull and unattractive that I had difficulty believing Sir John would ever prefer her to his wife. The studio reconstruction of the House of Commons is a lot more convincing than I expected it to be, especially for a Yank film. I'll rate this movie 8 out of 10.
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