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7/10
recommended
5 June 2015
Most of the reviews already posted recommend against this film. I thought I'd chime in with the supporters.

Of the 8 films in the Warner Archive "Robert Montgomery Collection" bundle, this is my favorite, followed closely by Faithless (1932). Overall, I've rated 18 of his films, and gave 4 sevens, 9 sixes, 4 fives and 1 four. That fits my overall rating profile pretty well, except one should have been an 8 instead of a four or five. So I'm not a special fan of Montgomery.

I agree that Montgomery's portrayal here is heavy-handed. His character, the titular Earl of Chicago, talks and behaves like a cross between Huntz Hall and Leo Gorcey, with an annoying giggle to guild the dandy-lion. Oh, and leave us not omit the Cagney-esque shoulder-roll.

The Earl has a twist that is interesting, if unlikely for a Chicago bootlegger: he's gun-averse, to the point of breaking out in a sweat when he sees one in some circumstances. He's volatile and sadistic, as demonstrated by his ring-slapping a man who displays his gun "for a laugh." He happily pays his thugs overtime for after-hours physical intimidation of a customer who withdrew his business during these post-Prohibition days. (We don't get a fix on the year, but it must be close to the repeal of Prohibition in 1934, because his cousin Master Gerald is about 13 during the flashback (the actor was 15), but is with his regiment in France in the present-day of the movie, late 1939.)

The Earl learns and grows during the story. He is humbled by the grandeur of the House of Lords. He discovers history, both English and American. He learns the basics of the culture of the landed gentry and their tenants, particularly about noblesse oblige. Edmund Gwenn delivers his usual pleasurable and effective performance, helping to shepherd the American Earl through his discoveries.

Unless this print was politically enhanced for later re-release, this film was released in January 1940, in the middle of the Phoney War. Hitler invaded Poland September 1, 1939, and Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand declared war on Germany 2 days later. America declared its neutrality 2 days after that. Europe languished in the Phoney War until Hitler invaded France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands in May 1940, although the Nazis began with other aggressions in March and April. (The History Place has a nice timeline, easily found by searching for "hitler's invasion of europe.")

Because the visitors to the castle in 1939 are mostly in uniform (not true during the flashback to 1934), and English troops in France are mentioned, I interpret part of the film's intent was to reduce America's isolationism, implying that it was OUR noblesse oblige to help defend Europe, especially England, against Hitler's aggression. The message is subtle, but I see it. MGM got more much overt about our noblesse oblige in 1940 with films Escape and The Mortal Storm.

The film's revenge plot line involves Edward Arnold's character (also delivered with his customary skill). One of the effective aspects of the film is that this character is written and performed to throw us off the scent. While we see his secret vengeful actions, he also interacts with the Earl and others beyond the need to disguise his intent. I wondered whether his actions were as destructive as they seemed.

MGM does its usual excellent job of providing beautifully designed and dressed sets.

I liked this movie. I only give a rating of 7+ if I recommend the film.
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6/10
Watch it for O'Connor's dance
26 December 2013
Right now, you can watch this on YouTube.

While I'm usually an avid fan of Charles Coburn (The More the Merrier, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), his appearance here could have been replaced by an entirely different type without any loss.

About 34 minutes in, O'Connor does a very good dance, showcasing his grace and athleticism, and making interesting use of his non-dancing male extras.

I'd probably buy this title just for those 4-5 minutes. Universal needs to publish O'Connor's movies on DVD, or at least create a compilation of his musical numbers.
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Moonlight Serenade (2009 Video)
6/10
great music
30 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
As a fan of old movies (primarily 1930's through 1950's), and especially musicals, I can recommend this movie. The music is wonderful, and includes standards by Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Warren and Gordon, and Sammy Fain to name a few. (Hopefully the Soundtrack Listing will be updated soon.) These songs are well executed in a jazzy style, and apparently sung by the actors Amy Adams and Alec Newman. I'm particularly impressed by Amy Adams' voice and style.

The plot is no worse than any other musical, and I welcomed the "happy" ending, also no worse than a standard Hollywood musical contrivance. (I guess characterizing the ending as "happy" could be construed as a "spoiler.") I'm glad to see a modern movie that lacks nudity and action (don't remember any foul language either), but embraces music, especially old standards arranged with a modern flair.

My rating of 6/10 is based primarily on the music; the production was not luxurious, nor was the plot enthralling. To give you a comparison, I'd rate 'De-Lovely' (2004) as 7 or 7.5 (because of it's EXCELLENT use of Cole Porter's songs), and 'Night and Day' (1946) as a 6 because of its tepid and slow storyline.
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