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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
If Jim Fisk were alive and operating today, he'd be on television and would run that well known introvert Donald Trump right off the tube with bad ratings. It's how that colorful fellow operated, never did anything in a small way.
Though the film has taken a great deal of liberty with the facts as has been pointed out by other reviewers, the essence of the man has been quite accurately captured by Edward Arnold. Also the characters of Uncle Dan'l Drew and Cornelius Vanderbilt are finely etched by Donald Meek and Clarence Kolb respectively.
It's quite true that Fisk got the start of his fortune by running contraband cotton out of the South, taking advantage of the fact that the one crop Confederacy couldn't export its crop because of the Union blockade. I'm sure that things were pretty hairy for Fisk as well as for his fictional partners Cary Grant and Jack Oakie.
Josie Mansfield as played by Frances Farmer was certainly not the first or last entertainer to take advantage of the attentions of a wealthy man. That was certainly demonstrated more accurately in Love Me or Leave Me by Doris Day as Ruth Etting. She was not as nice as Farmer and the script made her.
Frances Farmer in her memoirs said that while the film was not the type of material she was looking to do, she did enjoy working with Cary Grant who was to her as he appears on screen.
Though his efforts to control the gold market got him his most notoriety, they were not responsible for Fisk's demise. In fact the film's most glaring factual error was the omission of Fisk's partner in that enterprise, Jay Gould.
By the way Gould was in personal habits the exact opposite of Fisk. He was a rather sober, responsible family man who had no real vices of any kind other than greed.
The second big factual error was in that in the gold cornering scheme Fisk and Gould sought to gain influence in the Grant White House through hooking Ulysses Grant's brother-in-law, Abel R. Corbin in the move. That part did not work.
Nevertheless Edward Arnold in the title role gives a grand portrayal of a most colorful character from The Gilded Age.
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