Wednesday, July 12, 2006


I end my week of George Arliss films with this somewhat routine period picture that Arliss makes worth catching. I know little about the period or the personalities involved, but that didn't hamper my ability to follow a narrative that was certainly highly fictionalized. In 17th century France, King Louis XIII (Edward Arnold) is butting heads with the feudal lords of France over the consolidation of royal power. Arliss is Richelieu, chief minister of the King's Royal Council (apparently a forerunner to the modern post of Prime Minister), and he gets a good entrance scene: the Queen (Katharine Alexander), certain that Richelieu is far away, locks herself in the King's chamber and tries to convince him that the Cardinal is hungry for power and property and should be dismissed; Richelieu arrives and, despite being barred from the main entrance, uses a secret passageway into the chamber and spoils the Queen's plan. The rest of the film concerns various cat-and-mouse games between the Cardinal and the Queen, the Cardinal and the nobility, the Cardinal and the Pope (who is angry that Richelieu has drafted Protestant soldiers from Sweden to fight against German Catholics), and even the Cardinal and the King. One of the things I ended up liking about the movie is that I was never quite certain who the "good guy" was supposed to be. We are trained by the movies (not to mention by our history) to treat most royals with suspicion, and Arnold plays the king as pompous (though not stupid or evil), but Richelieu, with his army, his lavish personal palace, and the kickbacks he gets from some of the nobles, does not seem to be much more sympathetic. However, Arliss gives a grand performance, especially in a famous scene in which he melodramatically claims the sanctuary of the Church against attackers. There is a light romantic subplot that feels a little out of place involving a ward of the Cardinal's (Maureen O'Sullivan) and one of the angry Lords (Cesar Romero), but it does give Richelieu a more human touch. Douglass Dumbrille plays a chief conspirator, and John Carradine and Arthur Treacher have one-line bits as street agitators. Some fun intrigue between the Cardinal and the King ends the film nicely, but the main reason for seeking this out is to see Arliss. [FMC]

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