Monday, February 25, 2008


Yes, it's a movie about insurance, and it's only slightly less boring than you might imagine. The story focuses on Jonathan Blake (Tyrone Power) who, as a youth (played by Freddie Bartholomew), makes his way to London to tell Lloyd's of London, famous insurer of ships, about an insurance fraud plot he overheard. He gets a job with them, working his way up in the company. Around the time of the Napoleonic Wars, he helps a titled lady (Madeleine Carroll) escape from France, falls for her, then discovers she's married to the effete and boorish George Sanders. A few years later, Power has become a cynical fop and a gambler, insuring chorus girls' legs and Queen Victoria against having twins. Some other insurance brokers don't like his methods, but he does raise the profile of the company. He meets up with Carroll again and they begin a clandestine affair. Sanders only wants Carroll for her money, but she decides to get a divorce and invest in Power's brokerage syndicate. Unfortunately, she does so at the moment that France sinks dozens of British ships, throwing Lloyd's into turmoil. They raise their rates astronomically (though Power continues to insure at the lower rates, with Carroll continuing to give him money) and the merchant ships refuse to sail unless large numbers of Navy ships guard them. Power, who was a boyhood pal of Admiral Nelson, has confidence in the British Navy and sends false news of a Nelson victory so that the ships won't be taken away from war. At the climax, Sanders shoots Power over Carroll (or, more precisely, over her money) and at the same moment, Nelson, gravely wounded hundreds of miles away, manages to lead his troops to victory. Power lives, Nelson dies, but the outcome of the romance is left up in the air.

I had a difficult time with both the history, knowing embarrassingly little about British history and the ins and outs of the insurance business. The whole thing seemed wildly improbable anyway, and it turns out that the details of the story are indeed almost entirely fictional, though the set-up of Lloyd's is portrayed more or less accurately. In the beginning, Lloyd's is actually a coffee shop which members of insurance syndicates use as a clearinghouse for dealing and learning the latest news that might affect their business. The way in which foreign news is communicated provides a backdrop for a couple of interesting scenes. This was Power's first starring role, though bizarrely enough, Freddie Bartholomew gets top billing; in fact, Power winds up with fourth billing despite having by far the largest role; once Blake grows to adulthood, Power is in practically every scene. Honestly it was a chore to sit through this movie. Sanders provides some nasty fun in his few moments on screen, and the sets are OK, but it's slow moving and just too long. Guy Standing, C. Aubrey Smith, and Una O'Connor also appear. [FMC]

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