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Chandler, a con-man, and his helper Frank decide to create a clairvoyant act for the carny circuit, as a little research reveals Ameicans spent $125 million on mind-readers and astrology. The carny, renamed Chandra, falls for one of his marks, Sylvia, but their love is tested when he brings tragedy to other peoples' lives and she asks him to go straight. Written by
Jon C. Hopwood
Stephen Sondheim picked this movie as the initial film on his special night as the Turner Classic Movies programmer, March 22, 2005. The cable network TCM was honoring him on his 75th birthday. See more »
F.R. Franklin aka Frank:
[to Chandra Chandler as he's being led away to prison to serve a 2-10 year sentence]
It sure is tough to be going away just when beer is coming back.
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A trio of con artists (Warren William, Allen Jenkins and Clarence Muse) travels from city to city in middle America swindling suckers with a bogus mind reading act featuring William as "Chandra the Great," complete with turban and crystal ball. We the screen audience get to see the trickery behind his apparent clairvoyance, but a pretty, unemployed stenographer (Constance Cummings) is not so fortunate, and besotted with William's talents, joins his itinerant enterprise. Eventually she finds out what is really going on, but by then it's too late because she has fallen in love with her employer, and he with her.
To elaborate further would spoil the impact of this unusual pre-Code film, but I will say that its chief problem is that Cummings is just too smart to be as innocently unaware of certain things as the screenplay tries to make her, so we stop taking the story seriously. However, there remains much witty and mature dialogue, striking cinematography, and this interesting group of performers.
William gets the opportunity to play the on- and offstage modes of his character and also makes the most of an extended drunk scene. Cummings, largely wasted here, projects a tart intelligence that is probably more than the role deserves. Jenkins, the eternal sidekick, gets a generous share of the verbal zingers and Muse's role goes beyond the subservient nonsense usually assigned to black supporting players at that time. Mayo Methot, the future Mrs. Humphrey Bogart, appears briefly as a grief-deranged victim of Chandra's charlatanry.
Like so many feature films of the early 30's, this one moves along briskly so that none of its improbabilities have time to sink in and ruin the fun.
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