Tuesday, September 16, 2014

TOPAZE (1933)

The bratty son of the rich baron De La Tour complains that his teacher, Professor Topaze (John Barrymore), is against rich people and is teaching communism. Actually, Topaze is a stuffy but well-meaning teacher who tries to teach lessons of hard work and honesty, but when he refuses to change the boy's grade, the baron gets him fired. Meanwhile, the baron is about to unveil a new product, a sparkling water that, the advertising claims, has special health benefits even though it's just carbonated water. The inventor of the water quits when he finds out that the baron wants to swindle the public, so La Tour hires the newly unemployed and naïve Topaze to front for the product, calling it Sparkling Topaze. When he eventually finds out that he's been duped, Topaze has a nightmare vision of being surrounded by giant bottles of the water, and seeing huge neon signs proclaiming, "Topaze is a thief!" To placate him, the baron arranges for Topaze to receive the Academic Palms, a great state prize, and soon Topaze seems to be converted to the baron's lifestyle, lording his new fame over everyone and blackmailing the baron into subservience. He even attracts the attentions of the baron's young mistress (Myrna Loy, pictured with Barrymore). But when he is asked to speak at his old school, he struggles between his new outlook on life and his former innocent morality.

I've never seen Barrymore as a great talent, but he's very good here, doing a nice job playing against type in the first half as a passive, idealistic academic, then turning into a kind of Mr. Hyde character later. Loy is also fine as the mistress to both men; the opening scene, a pre-Code classic, shows Loy and the baron (Reginald Mason) enjoying a cozy winter night together—we assume they are married until he gets up and decides it's time to go home to the wife. The film’s satirical swipes at big business and advertising still sting. [TCM]

1 comment:

Jim B said...

Seriously, all you had to say was "Myrna Loy."