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William A. Wellman
Douglas Fairbanks Jr.,
Successful wealthy shoe manufacturer John Reeves takes a vacation leaving his business in the hands of his nephew. While on vacation Reeves runs into his rivals heirs who are living it up on their dead father's money. He doesn't tell them who he is and gets placed as their trustee. He uses the chance to reorganize their shoe company, becoming a rival for his own nephew. The ne'er-do-wells settle down and become involved in the business. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I just saw this gem on TCM and was completely delighted. The story is clever and well-paced. All the supporting acting is excellent, all the way down to the tiny roles of the cook and maid. It was a treat to see Bette Davis so young and sparkling.
But the greatest pleasure for me was my first chance to closely observe George Arliss. I am glad I learned years ago to watch a really good movie at two levels: to accept the reconstructed or imagined reality of the film and simultaneously to see it as an artistic creation blending acting, set design, photography, music, etc., etc. This split focus allowed me to absolutely believe Arliss' character while at the same time marveling at the ease with which he played the part, particularly since the role involved a secret identity which he moved back and forth between. I can now understand Arliss' once nearly legendary reputation and I will look forward to every other Arliss movie I can find.
Almost as great a pleasure to me was to see a film that revolves around the business world without demonizing it. Our hero is truly "The Working Man", which title has two meanings, referring both to Arliss' character's pretended lowly identity and to his actual position as the hard-working head of a major enterprise. There is one sleazy businessman in the story, but it is clear that he is a rat and an exception and that successful businesses depend on hard-working, foresightful, intelligent, and dedicated men. (And women; I was surprised by a Bette Davis line about all the women doing great things running businesses. In 1933?). Compare this to films and TV of the last 10 or 20 years which are just as likely to show business giants as swindlers, thieves, murderers, etc., or at least as callous megalomaniacs. Arliss's character HAS character, and integrity, and intelligence, and I was glad to see a positive portrait of a great businessman, especially as depicted by a great actor.
So why didn't I give the movie a 10? I can enjoy the now antique music of that era, but I thought it was intrusive at several points. Also, I thought the cleverly interwoven plot threads resolved themselves too abruptly at the end, which strained my belief for the only time in the story. But 9 out of 10 makes it still a great little film, and I'd give George Arliss more than 10 if I could.
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