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The story starts just before the Civil War, showing Fisk, Boyd, and Luke conning Southern townsfolk into buying bars of soap that, might, have a $10 gold piece inside. Found out, they're chased out of town and escape across the Mason-Dixon Line just as the war starts. Fisk hatches a plan for him and Boyd to return to the South and buy cotton then smuggle it to the North where Luke is to sell it to the Northern textile mills. By the end of the war they have made millions, only to find out that Luke had been re-investing their money into Confederate Bonds. This fact-based movie shows Jim Fisk as one of the greatest con-men and entrepreneur's in history. It concludes with his involvement in "Black Friday", the Financial Panic of 1869, with fellow financier Jay Gould (who's not represented in the movie) and their attempt to corner the U.S. gold market. There's a love triangle between Fisk, Boyd and Mansfield, which is also based on historical accounts. Written by
An Arnold Triumph, but not the historical tragedy it should have been.
In my opinion the finest character actor of the 1930s - mid 1940s was Edward Arnold, whose tragedy (although he would not have seen it that way) was that his acting career was not in a period when leading men (with the exception of the Englishman, Charles Laughton) could be fat. Arnold gave first rate performances time and time again in straight dramas and comic parts. But he was plump, in an age when you hoped a make-up man could make you look like Tyrone Power (as the original lyrics of Hooray for Hollywood suggested). Still he got quite some milage out of his abundant acting talent, expecially playing historical rich men: Diamond Jim Brady (in two films), General John Sutter, and here - "Col." James Fisk, Jr. And his performance, abetted by Frances Farmer, Cary Grant, Jack Oakie, Donald Meek, and Clarence Kolb, makes this film stay alive. It is an entertaining film - but is it historically correct.
Well, it has some of the facts (although it's basis in Matthew Josephson's left wing histories of finance are barely correct). Fisk was a greedy man - no denying it. He did get involved in fighting Vanderbilt (allied with "Uncle Dan'l" Drew)in getting control of the Erie Railroad. He did flee to New Jersey with the printing press to continue printing shares of Erie stock away from Vanderbilt's legal writs. He did try to corner the gold market. And he did romance Josie Mansfield (Farmer). But Vanderbilt was no saint - he was as ruthless as Fisk. Drew was a pretty slippery customer too (here seen to be too easily cowed or frightened). Missing here is Fisk's real partner in cunning (apparently also a really close friend too) Jay Gould. Why he isn't in the film is curious. So is the muted character played by Cary Grant. Grant is Ned Boyd, and aside from being an early ally of Fisk, and later his chief critic (in the Gold Panic), he has little to do but pine for Mansfield. In reality, the character is based on Edward Stokes, Fisk's former friend and business associate who turned on him, out of jealousy, and with Mansfield blackmailed the man - or tried to. Stokes would eventually shoot Fisk (who in real life did fall down a staircase, but in a hotel). Fisk died in 1872. One day his tragic betrayal and death would make an ideal movie. But Arnold can't play it - alas!!
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