Tuesday, July 04, 2006


George Arliss seems to have had two primary movie modes: serious historical figure and sly old father (and even his serious roles had a bit of the sly dad in them). This is a delightful comedy with Arliss as the second type; it's a lighter-than-air role, a little like the one he played in THE MILLIONAIRE but even fluffier. He's a rich banker who returns from a year-long stint in Europe, anxious to be fussed over by his loving family. The problem is that they seem to have gotten along quite well without him. His wife (Mary Astor) has completely redone his old and comfortable sitting room in blinding art nouveau and she's so booked up with social obligations, she barely has any time to spend with him. His frivolous children (William Janney and Evalyn Knapp) obviously have affection for their dad, but also have little time for him: idle Janney is always on the polo field and Knapp is preoccupied with her upcoming marriage to clueless fussy pinhead Hardie Albright. To simplify his family life, Arliss pretends that the family fortune has come to ruin, hoping that they'll all have to spend time together (inspired by his butler's remark that "the poor don't get to go out very often"). His plan works; not only do they start spending evenings together, but Janney gets a job and Knapp dumps Albright for hunky polo-player Randolph Scott. Only Astor causes concern when she seems to run out on Arliss with her Italian piano prodigy Fortunio Bonanova, but things aren't always what they seem and a happy ending is in store for all. The most amazing thing about this movie is the comic timing, which seems almost contemporary. I think of Arliss even at the top of his game as a somewhat stagy, old-fashioned actor, but he seems quite modern here, while still having the gravity necessary for the role. Astor, as usual, is good, and Grant Mitchell gets to shine as Arliss's butler; in a nice bit, Arliss winds up spending his free time in his butler's room in his old comfy chair, which Mitchell rescued when Astor threw it in the trash. There's a nice subplot involving a double-crossing businessman (David Torrence) to whom Arliss manages to put the screws. Leon Ames has a small role as an assistant to Arliss. Good fun all around. [TCM]

No comments: