Wednesday, November 07, 2007


A fictionalized biography of the kind that the studios used to crank out regularly. This one has Cary Grant and Edward Arnold, so naturally it's entertaining, but it didn't stick to my ribs. Arnold, usually a supporting character actor, is the star here, playing Jim Fisk, a well known Wall Street player of the mid-19th century. The film starts in 1861, with Arnold as a scamming traveling salesman in the South with his buddies Cary Grant and Jack Oakie. When the Civil War breaks out, they're run out of town, but they start a lucrative business smuggling cotton from the South to the North; sadly, Oakie, their man in New York City, puts all the profits in Confederate bonds, so after the war, they're flat broke. Through more creative finagling, they start up a steamboat line with the unwilling help of infamous robber baron Daniel Drew (Donald Meek) and millionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt (Clarence Kolb). The rest of the movie follows the interlocking relationships and changing fortunes of the men; usually when one is up, the others are down. There is a romantic subplot involving Frances Farmer, a maid who catches the eye of both Arnold and Grant; though she winds up with Arnold (who, in Charles Foster Kane fashion, tries to buy an acting career for her), Grant still holds a torch for her, and she for him. In the climax, Arnold single-handedly manipulates the stock market by artificially inflating gold prices, causing the historical Black Friday (September 24, 1869) when the federal government had to step in to save investors from losing everything and banks from failing. In the last scene, Fisk is shot to death by a disgruntled investor; in real life, he was indeed shot, but it happened three years later, and it was done by a lover of the Farmer character. The film moves along nicely, with much of it played in a light comic tone, especially by Oakie. Farmer has little to do, and Grant seems rather constrained as neither the lead nor the comic. [TCM]

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