Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Two Ronald Colman Historical Dramas:

Ronald Colman is a French poet and rogue who is arrested by King Louis XI. After he brags about what he could do if he were king, Louis makes him High Constable for a week. Of course, Colman makes good in his position, helping the king to defeat the forces of the Duke of Burgundy who have Paris surrounded. It's quite fun in that 30's historical movie way, with fancy sets and costumes and a little bit of larceny and swashbuckling. Frances Dee is an aristocratic lady who becomes Colman's love interest. Basil Rathbone is especially good (and completely unlike any other role I've seen him in) as Louis, with a shrill, nervous laugh and haughty manner--he reminds me a bit of Sam Jaffee doing similar character traits in THE SCARLET EMPRESS. The script is by Preston Sturges. Not great, but fun.

I've never read the Dickens novel, though I know the famous quotes. This lavish co-production of David Selznick and MGM is set during the French Revolution and stars Colman as a English lawyer who is smart but who is also drinking himself to an early old age. When a former French aristocrat (Donald Woods) who has disavowed his background and is now living in England is brought to court on trumped-up charges, Colman helps get him off and falls in love with Wood's fiancee (Elizabeth Allan). She admires Colman and thinks of him as a good friend, but marries Woods. Later, Woods is tricked into going back to Paris at the height of the Terror and is scheduled to be executed because of his family ties to the truly wicked Basil Rathbone. Colman, seeing no happy future for himself, sets out to save Woods even at the possible cost of his own life. Colman is fine in the role, but it's the supporting cast that is really fun to watch: Rathbone, though not on screen very long, is deliciously evil; Reginald Owen is fun as Colman's occasionally befuddled boss; Blanche Yurka is Madame LaFarge, a peasant woman who stands in for the lower classes who turned a righteous revolution into a bloody frenzy; she knits furiously as she watches the executions and plots the downfall of Woods. The best, not surprisingly, is Edna May Oliver as Miss Pross, maid to Allan, who is very protective of her and rather wary of Colman. Oliver and Yurka get the best scene in the whole movie, a fight to the death as Allan and Woods are escaping Paris. A well-acted, great looking movie that, while not as sweeping as the later Selznick & MGM movie GONE WITH THE WIND, is certainly worth watching.

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