Monday, June 19, 2006


This film begins with the trappings of a historical period piece, and indeed the title character really did live in 16th century Italy and was a goldsmith with ties to royalty. But it becomes clear very quickly that this isn't history at all, but an antic bedroom farce in which everyone gets to wear fabulous costumes and prance about on elaborate sets. As such, it works rather well, and the fact that it was released just before the restrictive Production Code went into effect allows it to sneak in some bawdy implications that would have been censored just months later. Fredric March plays goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini, whose scandalous ways have him constantly hiding from the law, or from jealous husbands, or both. The Duke of Florence (Frank Morgan), a member of the powerful Medici family, is after his hide, but March manages to buy some time for two reasons: 1) he is completing a set of gold dishes for the Duke, and 2) the Duchess (Constance Bennett) takes a liking to him. The love triangle is turned into a rectangle by March's young and lovely model (Fay Wray), with whom March has been dallying and to whom Morgan takes a shine. There are many scenes of loving and fighting and escaping, and the highlight of the film is a traditional door-slamming bedroom sequence in which Bennett pushes March out on a balcony so Morgan won't find him, while at the same time, Morgan has pushed Wray out on the same balcony; of course, March and Wray run off together to what March calls his "mountain hideaway," but which is really a smelly old barn. Another complication is Louis Calhern, a member of the court who is out for March's blood, and he becomes a key player in the finale in which a poisoned cup of wine decides the fates of our assorted lovers. The action bogs down just a bit in the middle, though the movie wraps up too quickly. Otherwise, if you're in the mood for a rollicking 30's farce, this will do the trick. Also in the cast are Jessie Ralph as Wray's mother who has a goat-like beard which is good for a couple of jokes, and Vince Barnett as March's dopey sidekick. Lucille Ball has a bit part as a lady in waiting, but I didn't catch her. March, in tights and a goatee, is more handsome and dashing than I've ever seen him; Bennett's not bad at being haughty, but I didn't think she was always able to keep up with the farcical pace. Some viewers really don't like Morgan as the Duke, doing the same befuddled shtick he almost always does so he never disappears into his character, but subtlety of characterization is hardly the point here and I eventually warmed to him. [FMC]

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