|Index||9 reviews in total|
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.
I've always immensely enjoyed comedies involving deception of sorts, where
the audience is in on who a person really is, while most of the cast in the
movie are not (The Devil and Miss Jones (1941) comes to mind as an example).
This film is one of the best of that type, with wealthy shoe manufacturer
George Arliss overhearing his nephew (Hardie Albright) saying he should
retire so he can run the business and do it better. A little angry, Arliss
goes on a fishing vacation to Maine where his old buddy J. Farrell MacDonald
lives, and quite by accident meets up with the heirs (Bette Davis and
Theodore Newton) of his chief competitor, who had just died. Arliss uses an
alias, and they think he is somewhat of a bum when they take him back to New
York with them because of a minor injury to his hand. There Arliss sees the
sorry state their finances are in and how their shoe plant is purposely
being run down by Gordon Westcott, who wants to buy it at a cheap price.
Arliss somehow convinces the trustees of the estate to make him Davis' and
Newton's guardian, and the fireworks begin as he takes charge of his
competitor's shoe plant. Only MacDonald knows who
he really is, and he keeps Arliss informed about any mail sent by Albright,
who thinks he still is on vacation in Maine. So Arliss plays both ends
against the middle, so to speak, and in the process teaches Davis, Newton
and Albright a thing or two about life and business.
The real joy in the film is the very clever screenplay, but George Arliss is also terrific in the lead, with Davis and Newton not far behind. Arliss knew the role well having done it in the 1924 silent called "$20 a Week." And Gordon Westcott makes a good heavy. This is a very underrated gem of a comedy.
This obscure "Bette Davis" film is obscure enough that I had never seen
it. I had heard that this was another of the minor programmers Davis
made towards the beginning of the Warner Brothers career. I had also
seen a number of George Arliss films and while I enjoyed them, I always
thought Alriss' style of theatrical acting was quite out of date in
What a pleasant surprise! This was shown on TCM today, and is a cleverly written story about a man helps a rival company out of his problems due to his prior love for the late rival's late wife, and the fact that he met and like her children! This is not a typical Warner Brothers programmer....in many ways it's one of the brightest, most enjoyable Warner Brothers films of the period.
Gee, it would be swell to see Warners put it out on DVD.
Interesting story of a sly old fox (George Arliss), owner of the Reeves
Shoe Company, who seems like he'd rather be fishing with his pal in
Maine than running the business, so heads off for a fishing holiday,
leaving his conceited nephew in charge of biz. While out fishing, he
accidentally meets up with the son and daughter of Hartland, his
recently deceased one-time friend and biggest rival in the shoe
business. Giving them a fake name, the two youths have no idea he is
rival Reeves, but they are really more interested in contacting
bootleggers, throwing drunken parties, and running through their
inheritance anyway. After heading back home with these two to get an
"inside look" at the workings of their shoe factory and make an offer
to buy the company, Reeves sees that the company is being run into the
ground and decides he would rather help these Hartlands out instead -
see, he was once in love with their mother, not to mention his
swollen-headed nephew thinks he's too old to run a business anymore -
he'll show the young whippersnapper! So he gets the Hartland's to make
him their new trustee/guardian (and they do it 'cause they think he is
just a simple "old fisherman" who will give them all the money they
want to run wild with), then takes a firm hold of the running of the
company and the young Hartlands!
Really good film with excellent script and performances all around. George Arliss is an old charmer, really endearing in this film - he makes you really want to root for him. Bette Davis looks real cute in this, and does a great job, as always, in her part. The story is lots of fun to watch, and left me with a smile at the end - credit for this film really belongs to George Arliss who dominates the film and makes it a good one.
THE WORKING MAN appointed to watch over the inheritance
a couple of young wastrels, unbeknownst to them, is actually
the old tycoon once in love with their late mother.
This is a very well produced little comedy from Vitaphone/Warner Bros., featuring another splendid performance from the old master of character acting, Mr. George Arliss. This was an actor who could fascinate an audience merely by sitting still, letting his face act for him. Here, playing a great shoe manufacturer, Arliss is tremendous fun, whether haranguing his salesmen, or, switching sides, working for his own biggest competitor with equal gusto. It is doubtful that Arliss ever gave anything less than an entertaining cinematic performance. It is a shame that this wonderful actor is nearly forgotten today.
Arliss is given good support by a trio of young actors: Hardie Albright as his stuffy, conceited nephew - The Young Napoleon of Shoes;' as well as Theodore Newton and a very pert & pretty Bette Davis as the spendthrift offspring of his late rival. Miss Davis always credited Mr. Arliss for giving her an important hands-up at this early stage in her screen career.
J. Farrell MacDonald is very down-to-earth as Arliss' fishing buddy in Maine; Edward Van Sloan appears briefly, but effectively, as Arliss' company auditor.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
George Arliss stars in this film as the owner of Reeves Shoes--one of
the giants in the shoe industry. However, upon hearing that his closest
rival, he's in a bit of a funk--without this competition, his job is a
lot less satisfying! Additionally he's in a funk because his nephew,
who is the #2 man at Reeves is a fat-head. The nephew is reasonably
competent--but he's also a very conceited jerk who thinks the company's
success is all due to him. By chance during his vacation Arliss meets
the son and daughter of his deceased competitor and he's not at all
pleased. Instead of caring about the business, all they care about is
partying. So, on a lark, he assumes control of their company and uses
it to battle, anonymously, against his nephew! This way he can teach
the two party-goers about the value of hard work and he can teach his
nephew some humility.
This is a very clever little comedy about the business world that works well due to a nice script and a lovely performance by Arliss--who just makes the picture glow. While Bette Davis is also in the film, it's an early role for her and she is competent but not much more. Apparently in real life she and Arliss grew very fond of each other and he taught her a lot about the acting craft--which makes sense since he was able to make his performance in this film look so effortless and charming.
By the way, if you like this sweet business comedy, try watching the even better 1941 film "The Devil and Miss Jones". It's also great fun and is one of the best comedies of the 1940s. The two films would make a nice double-feature.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Last night we watched our favorite George Arliss film, "The Working Man" (1933). This one not only has Arliss, but young Bette Davis (in her second film with Arliss, who more or less "discovered" her!), J. Farrell MacDonald, Hardie Albright, Theodore Newton, Gordon Westcott, and others.
This one is about a rather dysfunctional late 20's/early 30's wealthy family where the father dies and his flapper age children let the business slide, besides putting a head manager in place who now runs the company poorly so that it will fail and be taken over by a buy-out plan in which he's secretly involved. The business is a shoe business, and it's in direct competition with George Arliss' shoe company. Arliss has now let his nephew into the head managing job in his own shoe business, and this nephew thinks that George Arliss is too old to run the company. Arliss "takes a vacation"; however, the "vacation" is really a ruse where Arliss goes to the competition, becomes a "guardian" of the children - legally - and teaches them how to run a business, besides - all this while never letting on who he is. The "vacation" becomes extended, of course. Meanwhile, Arliss "cleans up" his competitor's business by getting rid of the creep manager who's trying to undermine it, and in the end begins ruining his own business as a result. In the end, there's love - between Bette Davis and the nephew in Arliss' business, played by Hardie Albright - and a merger between the two companies. Believe me, this is a simplistic description of events. The truth is, the show is didactic. Most people today would simply balk at watching a didactic show. Frankly, I think it's the best comedy that George Arliss ever made. He was famous for his historical portrayals of famous men, but he also made a series of rather didactic comedies that are nearly unlike any other films ever made in English. I love them all. Actually, they probably portray the 1920's stage as well as any films ever made, a lost section of historical performance that makes itself come alive again in these Arliss vehicles.
I not only highly recommend this, but for the viewer who wishes to see how Bette Davis became "discovered", this is the second of two (the other was "The Man Who Played God" (1932)) films she made where Arliss let her show her stuff, so to speak. These films have so much to offer to those willing to put themselves back into a period that is most unlike our own! Given that perspective, this will transport the viewer into another era and allow him/her to see a totally different kind of writing, acting, and format. There's just nothing out there today - at least in America - to compare to Arliss and his brand of film-making.
A couple of years ago Warner Archive Collection put out a three film Arliss collection to let viewers re-acquaint themselves with Arliss who died in 1946, and who is nearly forgotten today, although he won one of the first Oscars for Best Actor in 1929 for "Disraeli". In the set were three Arliss comedies, "Old English" (1930), "A Successful Calamity" (1932), and "The King's Vacation", but none of his portrayals of historical figures. This was a curiosity in and of itself! It doesn't do justice to the man. However, the fact that "Old English" was included was a great choice! "The King's Vacation" has a very young Dick Powell in it, so it has some kind of "modern" appeal. "A Successful Calamity" has Mary Astor in it, so ditto what I just said. I'd love to see a second set out with "Disraeli", "The Man Who Played God", and "The Working Man" in it. These were very successful vehicles for Arliss in their time. A set with both the silent and the sound "The Green Goddess" (1922/1930) would also be fascinating. Arliss needs to be re-discovered!!
New York shoe tycoon George Arliss (as John Reeves) clashes with nephew
Hardie Albright (as Benjamin Burnett) over managing the family
business. To show how the company will do without him, Mr. Arliss goes
off on an extended vacation. While fishing, Arliss meets young swimmers
Bette Davis and Theodore Newton (as Jenny and Tommy Hartland),
inheritors of his deceased rival's shoe company. Arliss is immediately
taken with Ms. Davis and Mr. Newton; he once courted their mother, also
But the young duo party while manager Gordon Westcott (as Fred Pettison) runs their business into the ground...
Arliss decides to teach all the youngsters a lesson by assuming the identity of "John Walton" and taking over the rival shoe company. With a typically masterful performance, Arliss makes this lightweight story work beautifully. The younger players glow in his presence; this was acknowledged by Davis, who would eventually possess a similar magical screen presence. Arliss and director John G. Adolfi obviously work very well together, and with the cast. An Arliss picture had to be great experience for the actor.
******** The Working Man (4/20/33) John G. Adolfi ~ George Arliss, Bette Davis, Theodore Newton, Hardie Albright
Working Man, The (1933)
*** (out of 4)
Extremely far-fetched but entertaining tale of a millionaire shoe maker (George Arliss) who decides to go work undercover at his rival's shoe factory. He wants to see if his nephew can really take care of the business but while undercover he begins to feel for the kids (Bette Davis, Theodore Newton) of the other shoe owner so he wants to teach them how to properly run a business even if that means he's going against his own. THE WORKING MAN has a very stupid story and I think the ending is pretty silly but at the same time Arliss is just so wonderful in the leading part that you can overlook the flaws with the story. I'm really not sure what the goal of the film was as it could have been to show young people what hard work is all about but it might also just be a story about one man caring for other people when he doesn't have any kids of his own. The story is very far-fetched but at the same time you can't help but enjoy watching Arliss play both sides against one another and in the end making everyone see what the most important things are. Needless to say, it's Arliss that steals the film with a remarkable and rather restrained performance. I really enjoyed how good Arliss was in regards to everything that the role called for. At times he had to be a strong disciplinary while the next scene might call for him to be a loving father type. He has to scream and shout to get the business going but then be caring enough to do what's best for these kids. Arliss nailed everything the screenplay called for and this was certainly a role the actor did justice for. Davis was still making a mark for herself so one shouldn't come to this film and expect to see that classic Davis. With that said she's still quite good here as you have no problem believing her in the part. Newton, Gordon Westcott and Hardie Albright add some nice support and horror fans will be happy to see Edward Van Sloan in a small role. THE WORKING MAN is certainly a message movie but while that message might get lost in some of the wackiness of the screenplay, what does stand is the strong performance by Arliss and that's reason alone to check this film out.
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