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'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
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.
It is a shame this film is so hard to find. Ronald Coleman does an excellent job in his dual role of Chilcote/Loder. The two characters are quite opposite and I might venture to call his delivery remarkable. It is similar in some ways to the Prisoner of Zenda, which indeed is a good film, but I prefer the ending of this one. Elissa Landi, her usual sweet and serenely beautiful self, is the model of a faithful wife. She did an excellent job as the wronged, but still loving wife who returns to help her husband in a time of need. It is a great shame that she did not make more films and is not better remembered to-day. She almost always played gentle, ladylike, loving, and thoughtful roles and did so very convincingly. Combine that with being very pretty and you have a good actress in my opinion. Try to find this one on ebay!!
The main plot idea in this film is that two cousins are completely
alike physically--so much so that when one substitutes for another no
one knows! Although this is a familiar film and TV theme (such as in
"The Patty Duke Show"), it is rather stupid--cousins don't look THAT
close to each other and how could they account for the same voice and
mannerisms? My advice is to try to look past this impossibility and
just enjoy this wonderful film. And, by the way, that's my same advice
for another Ronald Colman film made just a few years later--where, in
THE PRISONER OF ZENDA, you are expected to believe that distant cousins
are spitting images! Now, provided you can look past all this, the film
is actually quite good.
The film begins with Ronald Colman #1. He's a drug-addicted member of the British parliament and his party is disappointed in him again and again because he is almost totally incapacitated by the drug he drinks. They never really say WHAT it is--I assume it's Laudanum. Anyways, when this falling down addict discovers that he's got a long lost and identical cousin (Ronald Colman #2), he begs the cousin to take his place. Unfortunately, things do too well--as the longer the substitute pretends to be the once-great parliamentarian, the bigger his reputation becomes! To make things worse, Ronald Colman #1's estranged wife is now attracted to who she THINKS is her husband and Ronald Colmen #2 is too nice a guy to just sleep with her! The whole thing sounds a bit comedic, but it's not. However, it is a nice drama with romantic overtones.
What makes it so good is the wonderful performances by Colman (he is his usual erudite self) as well as good writing--particularly the ending which is NOT what you'd normally expect and increased my love for this film immensely.
I consider myself fortunate to finally get to see The Masquerader for
the first time in about forty years. Ronald Colman's dual performance
as a dissolute Member of Parliament and his lookalike writer cousin
still holds up well.
Finding out that the basis for the film version, a second version I might add of this film was a 1904 novel knocked certain notions from my head. I do think that the modern crisis alluded to in the film is based on the General Strike that Great Britain was undergoing in 1926. It would not surprise me if newsreels of the period were incorporated into the film. In real life however Stanley Baldwin's government was not toppled, in fact most historians give him great kudos for his handling of the crisis.
As the story opens party members are looking to promising young MP Colman for some brilliant oratory that will topple the existing government which is unable to cope with a domestic crisis. Greatness calls but Colman is not answering. He's become alcohol and drug dependent with the demands of public life coming on top of a bad domestic situation with both wife Elissa Landi and mistress Juliette Compton making his private life hell as well.
A passing run in that Colman has with his lookalike cousin gives butler Halliwell Hobbes an idea. Cousin Colman substitutes for the MP and does rally the party and becomes the toast of the nation. The cousin also has to do some fast thinking on his feet as far as the wife and mistress are concerned.
I think the character of the MP is based on Lord Randolph Churchill who for reasons of his own dissolute enjoyment of the vices took a rapid tumble in a brilliant career to be. His son certainly fulfilled the promise that that father had. As for the film itself I venture to say that the lookalike substitution may have its inspiration from The Man In The Iron Mask. And if you think about the MGM comedy Callaway Went Thataway has a very similar plot development. Of course that one was played strictly laughs and laughs are very few in The Masquerader.
Ronald Colman was nothing short of brilliant here, excelling in both roles. Kudos should also be given to Halliwell Hobbes who played many butlers in his career, but was never better here. In the end Hobbes is entrusted with a secret that could involve the history of the realm itself.
Ronald Colman is better known for playing that other dual role in The Prisoner Of Zenda. He may very well have been cast in that part by David O. Selznick on the strength of what he did here in The Masquerader.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film offers yet another outstanding performance by Ronald Colman
playing two different characters. If anyone has seen the film "Dave"
with Kevin Kline, they will be shocked to find that this film was not
only the inspiration for that film, but it was much darker
(Particularly as it relates to John Chilcote's drug addiction), and
Spoilers Ahead: The ending was even more twisted because John Loder
(Chilcote's look a like cousin), in order to save England, had to
remain playing Chilcote (Including being with Eve (A woman he loves,
but was willing to walk away from because she was Chilcote's neglected
The reason why this film was neglected is it was a Goldwyn Studios Film (Like all of Colman's early work), and distributed by MGM. MGM is the kiss of death for classic movies, and at least in this case, it will become better known because Warner Brothers bought the license. If anyone knows how Warner Bros works, they will know they do everything possible to complete and restore their film library (RKO is a huge part of it, and the 21 RKO Titles they acquired out of 74 Goldwyn Films is their primary motivation behind the deal). When this film is restored, and released on DVD, everyone will see what a classic it is. ps I think after getting the license Warner's will never surrender the rights to these films, and film fans will all benefit. Making this rarity more available, is why it is a great deal.
There's no question but that "The Masquerader" is dated. This 1933 movie is set in a London contemporaneous with the era in which it was filmed and portrays a highly stratified social milieu that has all but disappeared in the intervening eight decades; one is almost surprised that the constable at the doors of the House of Commons doesn't pull his forelock as he addresses the parliamentarians who emerge. But the movie is nimbly and deftly made and features both good acting in its principal and secondary roles and sure direction by Richard Wallace. Portraying both the dissolute Sir John Chilcote and his identical cousin John Loder, Ronald Colman is afforded the opportunity to display both his louche and noble sides (qualities he was to exploit to greater advantage in "A Tale of Two Cities" made two years later) and Colman makes the most of it. He's ably assisted here by Elissa Landi, Juliette Compton and the ubiquitous Halliwell Hobbes (playing his faithful, if long-suffering manservant, Brock). And, really, it's the acting that makes this movie come to life; in the hands of lesser thespians the much-used plot and only serviceable dialogue would begin to display the threadbare attributes of the cinematically shop-worn. But good acting always has the ability to move us... or it should. The joy that Colman's and Landi's characters feel when the expected but nonetheless surprising ending to "The Masquerader" rolls 'round is palpable and -- in a cool, present-day cinematic era when highly charged emotion is regarded as somewhat suspect -- refreshing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The director treats this one as a photographed stage play, employing little camera movement, using few, if any, reverse angles, and no doubt encouraging his players to over-act. The script is rather wordy, but the players manage to pull it off with only a dull moment here and there. Despite the advertising build-up, the story holds little suspense as it's obvious how the movie will end, given that this was a pre-code production. Gregg Toland's noirish camera-work sets the right mood of tragic elegance, and the movie is nothing if not expansively produced. The special effects are so well contrived, few people will be aware of their technical brilliance. Of the players, Juliette Compton of "Woman to Woman" (1929) not only gives a fine performance here, but is glamorously wardrobed and photographed as well. Elissa Landi runs her close.
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