Wednesday, August 17, 2016


The Clairvoyant, a classy British production, takes no moral or scientific stand on the concept of telepathy. Therefore, believers and non-believers alike will find it alternately consoling and irritating. All in all, an excellent idea.

A charlatan named Maximus and his wife Rene are touring the British music halls with a phony mind-reading act. One night, a sympathetic fan named Christine channels her own real telepathic gift through Maximus, turning his life upside down. 

While his salary and acclaim rise dramatically, his personal life falls apart, as he spends more time with Christine; neither can work without the other. And in their wake lies a stream of tragedy. By the end, Maximus is on trial for the deaths of hundreds of workers in a subway tunnel disaster. They really should have seen that coming, right?

The unanswered mystery looming over the The Clairvoyant's climax is if Maximus predicted these events, or if Christine caused them to happen by using Maximus as her telepathic receiver, for her own nefarious reasons. (Did I mention that her father is the publisher of the biggest newspaper in London?) Max, just hang up on her!

"Hello all you people in radio land. I hope you haven't
made any long-term plans."
The Clairvoyant's poster promises "The Eternal Triangle," but it's more like two-and-a-half sides. While Christine is clearly enamored of Maximus, even behaving like his wife in front of Rene, the love is never returned. He might be spending time with her, but he really is working late -- honest!

The eyes have it.
Director Maurice Elvey heightens the drama with quick edits and extreme close-ups, especially of the always-wonderful Claude Rains (as Maximus). Somehow, in the pre-CGI age, Rains' eyes positively glow when he goes into a trance. Technicians had to work at these things back then. 

Modern audiences would probably find much of The Clairvoyant a bit unsubtle. I think that's the point. This movie is about a phony who discovers that he's the real deal -- and has the body count to prove it. How subtle would their reaction be? Even if their eyes didn't glow.

For its stateside release, The Clairvoyant was re-titled The Evil Mind, probably because the studio didn't think Americans knew what "clairvoyant" meant. But it can also refer to Christine. Almost all the prognostications she sends to him wind up with people killed. And I thought use to have annoying work colleagues.
Cheer up, Rene! You finally found a guy who thinks
the same way you do.

But perhaps that's why Jane Baxter plays Christine with an almost constant look of melancholy, even when she's allegedly happy, as if she can't help but destroy not only Maximus' life, but that of complete strangers. Like I always say: Dames, hunh?

If my wife wore a coat three sizes too big,
I'd look pretty stunned, too.
While the making of The Clairvoyant was a brief return home for Claude Rains -- it was only his fourth movie after his star-making turn in The Invisible Man -- it's American actress Fay Wray who plays his wife Rene with a proper British accent. Either Wray was box office insurance for the US release, or she came cheaper than British leading ladies.

These days, when far-fetched "based on a true story" movies are accepted without question, it's refreshing that the entirely fictional The Clairvoyant offers no answers or explanations; the viewer is left to figure out the hows and whys. Like why co-star Athole Stewart was given that first name. I mean, anybody could have predicted that he would grow up with kids yelling, "Hey, Athole!"


Friday, August 5, 2016


The usual voodoo tale back in the day featured a blonde, Nordic heroine falling under the spell of Creole-speaking blacks in the tropics. 

Columbia's 1934 shocker Black Moon goes a different route, with its leading female character, Juanita Perez, actually yearning to return to the island of San Christopher, where she grew up. Having never gotten the jungle out of her system, we first see her at home hypnotically playing a jungle drum for her enraptured seven year-old daughter Nancy.

My mother, the voodoo priestess.
While today she'd look like a member of a drumming circle, this scene -- along with her Latino name and jet black hair -- were cues to 1934 audiences: whatever happens, this dame has it coming. 

Just to make things more explicit, her husband, Stephen Lane, is rich, kind, a devoted husband and father, a captain of industry, and very white. Even his secretary, Gail, is in love with him. I want to be Stephen Lane.

The only thing wrong with him is that he lets little Nancy accompany Juanita (along with Gail and a nurse) for a three-week stay on San Christopher -- just another example of a man lacking a woman's intuition.

A vacation souvenir you don't want to see.
It's not Stephen's fault entirely. Throughout Black Moon, everyone who tries to warn him about Juanita's evil-eye excursion winds up on the wrong end of a dart gun, noose or, in the case of Nancy's nurse, a hot tar pit. By the time he finally shows up to bring everybody home, all hell is more or less literally breaking out. Typical family vacation.

Juanita, you see, has been spending more and more time on nighttime walks, returning glassy-eyed and woozy. While my excuse for such behavior involves the corner bar on 50-cent shot nights, Juanita has been sucked back into the voodoo world (where, according to Uncle John, her nursemaid Ruva took her to ceremonies as a child, where she first "tasted blood." Trust me, 50-cent shots do the trick better.)

That isn't Alka-Seltzer she's
putting into hubby's water glass.
Once Stephen shoots Kala, the village priest, in order to prevent a human sacrifice, the natives decide he must pay the price. Juanita's attempt at poisoning him goes wrong when it's accidentally ingested by Nancy instead. But like any good doctor, Uncle Jack has voodoo antidote in his doctor's bag. Unfortunately,it's an out-of-pocket cost.

"Just close your eyes, kid, you
won't feel a thing."
Unsatisfied with this bungled murder attempt, the natives kidnap Nancy in order for Juanita, now a high priestess, to make her daughter a human sacrifice. This was a pretty stunning turn of events for a studio movie at the time -- even more so when Juanita brings a saber down at her daughter's head, only to be shot dead by Stephen just in time. Yes, typical family vacation alright.

An extremely entertaining, well-made picture with effective black & white cinematography, Black Moon was wild enough to get it banned in the UK. There's violence aplenty, with the aftermath of the nurse's tar pit death particularly gruesome, while Uncle Jack's treatment of blacks rivals what you'd see at Trump rallies. (Uncle Jack, meanwhile, might be the first person in talkies to utter the immortal line, "The natives are restless tonight." Gee, I wonder why, Skippy.)

"Look, Jack, aren't there any shorts
around here? I'm getting a rash behind
my knees."
Then you have Juanita, who's forgets to wear certain undergarments while wearing slinky, see-through dresses. As usual in pre-code movies, everybody seems to have packed their finest clothes for this hot, humid hellhole that lacks even an Applebee's. Even Stephen and Uncle Jack dine in formal-wear even though they never leave the house. You're white, we get it.

"Remember, boss, I'm on your side."
By the way, just about the only black character who isn't a killer or zombie-maker is the Georgia-born Lunch McClaren. As played by the great Clarence Muse, is as close to a fully-rounded person black you could find studio pictures at the time, being a self-made man with a ferry-boat business, a warm singing voice, and wry sense of humor. He's possibly the only black character you'll see in a mainstream '30s movie who's allowed to shoot a gun with the white folks, and not get fired upon himself. 

Gail, Stephen and Nancy consider
using Trivago for their next trip

Other than Muse, Black Moon's only recognizable actor is Fay Wray, as the faithful secretary Gail, thanks to the previous year's hit, King Kong. Columbia executives were probably thinking, "Hey, let's hire this Fay Wray dish, she knows her way around a jungle." Her hair in Black Moon is black instead of the platinum blonde she's famous for, perhaps so as not to outshine the actress playing Juanita, Dorothy Burgess.

No problem -- Gail winds up with Jack after he shoots his wife to death. That's one way of landing a husband.


Saturday, July 30, 2016


Auto magnate John Sinclair is working himself to death. Friendless and without family, he suddenly proposes marriage to a nurse, Joan Martin. He wants to spend his remaining days with someone who cares, offering her "my entire fortune for a few months of your life." 

To Joan, who grew up poor, this sounds dandy -- until Sinclair gradually regains his health... and discovers that she's sick of living in a lonely lighthouse with a husband she loathes... and her former fiance comes by, rekindling old feelings... 

The fourth in Columbia's Whistler movies based on the popular radio series, Voice of the Whistler shows how loneliness affects the lives of its principal characters. By the end, it has killed two of them physically, and one psychologically. Try pitching an idea like that at one of the major studios today, see where it gets you.

Voice of the Whistler appears to rise above its B-movie status by opening with a newsreel straight out of Citizen Kane. From that point on, however, it's onto the slightly shabby Columbia soundstages, starkly furnished and with as few knickknacks as possible in order to save some dough. 

The sense of cheapness even affects the dialogue. When John Sinclair initially decides he needs a vacation, he books passage on a steamer to Duluth. Duluth?! Dude, you're a multi-millionaire! At least try Block Island. 

Sinclair is taken under Sparrow's wing.
Nobody in Voice of the Whistler is who they appear to be.  Sinclair initially passes himself off as an ordinary guy named John Carter. Ernie Sparrow, who cares for Sinclair when the latter collapses on the street, was once a great boxer in the UK, but found true happiness as a cabdriver in Detroit. (Yes, this is fictional.) Joan Martin seems like the nicest nurse in town, until her grasping, greedy side comes to the fore. Her ex-fiance Fred, a friendly doctor, decides, literally overnight, to murder Sinclair. You'll never look at your neighbor the same way again.

"Pay no attention to the fiance behind
the window!"
Nurse Joan in particular is a real piece of work. Breaking the news to Fred that she's marrying Sinclair, she barks, "I've given you the chance to get ahead and you've failed!", adding for good measure, "You're soft!" After six months stuck with Sinclair, she spits at her now-healthy husband, "I've kept my part of the bargain. You haven't!" Joan might have taken the Nightingale Nursing Pledge, but she really needs to brush up on her interpersonal skills.

Living in a Maine lighthouse miles from
else with a rich husband who
didn't die and a dumbass boxer who smells
like seafood -- what's not to love?
But all bets are off when Fred visits them at their Maine lighthouse, where Ernie Sparrow also lives because... well, it's not clear what he's doing there, other than having accepted Sinclair's invitation. If I thought I had six months to live with a pretty wife, having a washed-up Cockney pugilist hang around cracking wise would be the last thing I'd want around me 24/7. 

No fool he, Sinclair immediately figures out that Fred has come for more than fried clams and a can of New England Ale. In one of the sickest moments of any of the Whistler movies, Sinclair manipulates Fred into murdering him, only to turn the tables at the very last minute. And Ernie doing the same to him. And Joan doing the same to them.

As with the best of the entries in the series, Voice of the Whistler creates an uneasy tone right from the beginning, gradually amping things up until its startlingly strange finale. You leave the Whistler movies as if awakening from a particularly troubling dream that you can't immediately shake off, somewhat like being married to me.

Of course, none of the Whistler movies would be half as good without Richard Dix, the Bogart of the B's, as their perennially doomed "hero." Dix plays Sinclair with a stark reality and empathy that appears shockingly personal.

When we first meet him, Sinclair is a walking corpse, rich in money and celebrity, but devoid of any life. Regaining his health, he appears to be the happiest, heartiest person on earth. By the end, the now-insanely jealous Sinclair transforms into a stone-cold killer. In each phase, Dix is totally convincing.

Don't mess with Dix.
Once a leading man in silents and early talkies, Richard Dix saw his fortunes wane over time. Alcoholism, too, had by now taken its toll; in Voice of the Whistler, Dix can be heard occasionally slurring his dialogue, and not because he's tired. This unintended glimpse into the real man offers an emotional resonance lacking in many actors of his time or today's. 

Indeed, Richard Dix became an even better, more interesting actor as he drifted into B's and his health deteriorated. He seems to be willing his characters to life as he himself was dying. Watch Voice of the Whistler and picture any contemporary actor his age -- only 52, but looking much older -- doing the same job. It isn't a coincidence that when he could no longer work, Columbia shot only one Whistler movie without him before ending the series. Richard Dix was irreplaceable.


(Click on the Richard Dix label below for more of his movies.)

Monday, July 25, 2016


When The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was cancelled after two and half contentious seasons, Tommy Smothers was convinced that Pres. Richard Nixon had a hand in its demise. Three years later, he tried to exact revenge by producing Another Nice Mess. It's a mess, I'll grant you that.

So obscure that most people weren't even aware of its existence at the time, Another Nice Mess is for people who ever wondered what President Nixon and Vice-President Spiro Agnew would have been like if they talked and behaved Laurel & Hardy. Are you on the bandwagon?

Character actor Herb Voland is Agnew/Laurel, while legendary impressionist Rich Little is Nixon/Hardy. It's an interesting idea; Voland and Little impersonate the comedians quite well, perhaps better than anyone else ever has. 

If you loved Way Out West, you may tolerate
Another Nice Mess. But it's unlikely.
Unfortunately, they haven't been giving a script or a budget worth their talent. Writer/director Bob Einstein is certainly familiar with Laurel & Hardy -- their classic dance from Way Out West, for instance, is replicated here. But Laurel & Hardy made everything appear effortless. Voland & Little, having not worked together before nor being physical comedians, look like they're, well, trying their best. 

I don't remember what's supposed to be
happening here, but it doesn't matter.
Further muddying things, Einstein adds sound effects and trick camera work more appropriate for The Three Stooges, as if realizing his target audience -- stoners, Nixon haters, and stoner Nixon haters -- wouldn't have the patience to sit through a deliberately-paced Laurel & Hardyesque movie.Never play to the stoners.

No performer given, and for good reason.
Too, one misses the infectious music that LeRoy Shields and Marvin Hatley composed for the Hal Roach pictures. While L&H's "Ku-Ku" theme appears from time to time in Another Nice Mess, a pop song titled "I Am the President" is performed ad nauseum by someone trying to sound like Arlo Guthrie. 

Old Hitler wishes he died back at the bunker, as does
the audience.

Oh, by the way, there's a plot, of sorts. An elderly Adolf Hitler is living secretly in the White House, trying to take over the presidency with the help of a sexy intern. That's comedy, folks.

Einstein tries to jazz things up (or pad things out) with clips of the real Laurel & Hardy "watching" the events onscreen; there's also genuine news footage of Nixon campaigning. Taking it one meta-step further, Rich Little occasionally appears as the "real" Pres. Nixon commenting on Another Nice Mess in the White House screening room. His vocal and physical resemblance are eerily spot-on; Einstein should have written a one-man stage show for Little as Nixon, and saved Tommy Smothers some money.

Nixon's shave is interrupted by a 
plumber's snake from Agnew's
bathroom. Just as funny as it sounds.
As bad as it is, Another Nice Mess could have been a lot worse. Entire scenes seem to have been left on the cutting room floor, accounting for its incredibly short 65-minute running time. What remains -- like "zany" running gags featuring Secret Service agents disguised as houseplants -- has been edited with the skill of a logger with a bad case of the shakes. So much for getting even with Tricky Dickie.

Steve Martin, far right, watches his movie
career almost end before it begins.
Bob Einstein was one of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour's writers/supporting players, as was Steve Martin, who makes his movie debut here as a hippie inadvertently launching a brick-throwing fight with Nixon, Agnew and a bunch of innocent bystanders. I don't recall seeing this clip during the American Film Institute's tribute to Steve a while back. 

Steve Martin and Bob Einstein pretend they
had nothing to do with Another Nice Mess.
Dick & Spiro as Stan & Ollie could have worked as a recurring seven-minute sketch on the Smothers Brothers show. But as a movie, Another Nice Mess hangs together like a fallen clothesline. Tommy Smothers himself admitted it was "terrible", allowing it to fall into public domain; prints are as faded as a forgotten 1940s Cinecolor b-movie.

Just for fun, if you ever run into Steve Martin, tell him your favorite movie isAnother Nice Mess. His reaction will probably be more entertaining than anything in the movie.

Monday, July 18, 2016


Memo to idiots of the male sex: If your bride is making out with her ex-boyfriend a minute after you've exchanged "I do's", don't continue to Niagara like nothing happened. Otherwise, you'll wind up dead in your living room clutching a gun that's been wiped clean of prints and no powder burns on your hands. Thank Blonde Ice for that bit of advice.

"Darling! I was only whispering into
his mouth!"
Claire Cummings has barely gotten through the honeymoon phase of her honeymoon when her husband, Carl Hanneman, discovers her writing a love letter to her ex, newspaper reporter Les Burns. Faster than you can say "No-good dame," Carl returns to their home in San Francisco with the letter in his pocket and divorce on his mind.

If Les was smart, he'd drive straight into
a brick wall.
Eager to collect an inheritance, Claire pays a pilot $500 to fly her to Frisco on the qt, where she knocks off Carl and returns to the honeymoon bungalow in one night. When Claire later returns to Frisco for good, she sweet-talks Les Burns into picking her up at the airport with the ol' my-husband's-gone-to-work-in-New-York routine. 

They're greeted at home by hubby's corpse on the floor. In short order, the police suspect foul play, and zero in on Les at the culprit. He loved her, right? And hated Carl for marrying her, right? And Claire was 400 miles away the night of the murder, right? 

Al and Les exchange the fine art of the
Just to make things more interesting, the oily Al Herrick, a newspaper colleague of Les', latches onto the same angle -- mainly because he was Claire's boyfriend back in the day, too. It's harder to figure out who has the worst taste in lovers, Claire or the blockheads who fall for her. (The only other things all her boyfriends have in common are thin mustaches and baritone voices brought about by a couple dozen Pall Malls a day.) James Griffith plays Al like a cross between Franklin Pangborn and Clifton Webb, only hetero, which is just as bizarre as it sounds.

Every 40s drama needed one scene
where one person looked away
from the other during a
Claire eventually racks up two more victims -- the pilot who flew her to Frisco to kill her husband, and her new fiancee, Congressman-elect Stanley Mason (which must make Blonde Ice the only bad-girl noir featuring an assassination). And in a thoughtful gesture, she tries to pin the latter on Les Burns. Only through the machinations of psychiatrist Dr. Kippinger does Claire finally break down and confess -- leading to yet another, climactic killing. Her trigger finger must have callouses.

For its meager pedigree, Blonde Ice is rich in b-movie dialogue, tossed about like a time-bomb with a short fuse. When Les discovers that Claire is engaged to Stan, he snorts, "Claire Cummings Hanneman Mason. If this keeps up, you won't be able to get your 
Make that two scenes.
initials on your silverware!" 

And a moment later, he gets another classic line when she tries wrapping him around her deadly little finger: "You're like a poison. Take a little bit and you're finished. But too much becomes an antidote." I hear ya, brother, I hear ya.

Only the shrink seems to be concerned that Claire
is making ready with the revolver. Maybe that's why
he's a shrink.
If Claire's character were a man, he'd be immediately pinned as a creepy villain whose sorry end can't come soon enough. However, as played by Leslie Brooks, she exudes a sick sexiness that make men deaf, blind, and stupid -- proof that women have it easier than men.

What was it about janes like these that made movies like Blonde Ice so popular? For male ticket-buyers, it was a safe way to witness revenge on every dame that did them dirt. For women, they got to live vicariously through a totally uninhibited character, while enjoying the anti-heroine's punishment as a salve to their own guilt.

But maybe Al Herrick puts it best: "I know that Claire Cummings is a nut if I ever saw one." Yeah, but you slept with her, pal.


Saturday, June 18, 2016

TITANIC (1943)

Call me a sensitive old fool, but I've never understood why, for over 100 years, people have happily lined up to watch movies about the Titanic, whose whole raison d'etre is the drowning death of 1,503 people. 

You'd think something like that would be appealing to, say, a ruthless propagandist who wants to stoke an audience's basest instincts. You know, like James Cameron. 

But the wartime German version of Titanic was produced by a guy who took agitprop a million nasty steps further: Josef Goebbels. Believing that an epic about the most famous maritime disaster in history would be ripe for anti-British propaganda (he could've made propaganda from a driving manual), Goebbels hired director Herbert Selpin to shout "Aktion!", and rubbed his bony hands in anticipation. 

Ismay looks like a real nice guy.
Unlike other movie versions of the Titanic, the bad guys here aren't the icebergs, but the British and American aristocrats onboard. The construction of the Titanic has fallen behind schedule, driving the price of shares of the White Star Line to new lows. White Star president Bruce Ismay wants money saved and corners cut as the ship comes down the assembly line. Tell me if you see trouble ahead.

Ismay and other fatcats then start gobbling up White Star stock at a low price, hoping to make a killing (no pun intended) when the Titanic reaches New York on time -- or, even better, ahead of schedule. As he gets onboard the ship for its maiden voyage, Ismay orders Captain Edward Smith to sail full steam ahead, no matter the danger.

Meanwhile, John Jacob Astor, also on the Titanic, wants the ship to slow down -- not to protect the passengers, but so they arrive late. He, too, is buying White Star shares, and it's in his interest if the ship doesn't live up to its hype. His aim to is to buy enough shares from nervous investors in order to own 51% of the Titanic -- and the company itself -- when they finally dock. Where are those Magic 8 balls when you need them?

As the Titanic sinks, Petersen (right) tries to 
figure out how to tell Captain Smith and Bruce Ismay
"Toldja so!" in German.
The one person who sees through the despicable Brits and Yanks is 1st Officer Hans Petersen, who is -- well, whaddaya know? -- the only German on the crew. Petersen (who never really existed) spends the entire movie warning of the inevitable disaster. Goebbels' message seems to be, Hey, we tried! 

However, Titanic's self-righteous epilogue -- "The deaths of 1,500 people remain unatoned, forever a testament of Britain's endless quest for profit" -- is more than a little rich in light of history.

As with other Titanic movies, fictional characters come and go faster than you can say, "Achtung!". A Cuban jewel thief. Young lovers who meet hours before the sinking. A Russian heiress who's lost her fortune. Friends in steerage fighting over the same woman. And because many of the extras were commandeered from the Nazi military, it might be the only Titanic movie where you're happy to see the passengers die.

Panic inside a very large bathtub.
There's nothing really bad about Titanic. But there's nothing particularly special about it either, despite its extravagant budget ($180,000,000 in today's money) and shooting time (over a year). Only one, brief exterior shot appears to have been filmed on a real ship. The Titanic miniature itself is unconvincing. "Drowning" extras stand upright in roughly four feet of water. Warm water at that. 

The producer (right) and his boss drop by the
set with some useful notes.

A movie about the making of Titanic would be more interesting. (A good summary can be found here.) But suffice it to say that Herbert Selpin wound up being a little too big for his lederhosen. In fact, it was likely the only time a producer fired his director by ordering him hanged in a jail cell. And they said Harry Cohn was tough!

So what did Josef Goebbels get in return for those four million Reichmarks lavished on Titanic? A movie about a preening, egomaniacal sociopath deliberately leading people to certain death. Say, where have I heard that before?... 

Realizing the obvious irony, Goebbels kept Titanic out of German theatres, but released it to Nazi-occupied countries and fellow Axis powers. A complete, uncensored video version wasn't made available until 2005. Whether it was worth the wait depends on your tolerance for underdeveloped supporting characters, overheated enemy propaganda, and a climax you've seen coming all your life. 

On the plus side: it's almost two hours shorter than James Cameron's Titanic, and lacks that version's horrible theme song by Celine Dion. 

OK, Goebbels, you win --this time.


Monday, June 13, 2016


Just in case you caught the Tony Awards the other night, prepare yourself for a shock: Alexander Hamilton wasn't a rapper, nor was he Latino. In truth, he spoke with the upperest of upper crust British accents, and resembled the Phantom of the Opera following plastic surgery. 

In other words, 34 year-old Alexander Hamilton looked exactly like 65 year-old George Arliss. I know people aged faster back in the day, but wow.

An example of Arliss' seemingly endless parade of portraying historical figures, Alexander Hamilton is unique in that it seems to be the only one where his character doesn't play foxy ol' matchmaker for his daughter and a shy, handsome young man. Instead, he has to focus his energy on convincing Thomas Jefferson that it's necessary for America to create a national bank. Where's the romance in that?

The only time it'll take a man longer to
undress than a woman.
You'd be surprised. While his wife Betsy is away in London caring for her ill sister, Hamilton does the 18th-century dirty with Mariah Reynolds, the wife of his enemy James Reynolds -- who has arranged the affair. (Hamilton had fired Reynolds from his Treasury job for being drunk and lazy. I thought that was a requirement for a government job.)

Faster than Hamilton can say, "I did not have sex with that woman, Mariah Reynolds," another of his political enemies, Sen. Timothy Roberts, gives him the lowdown: withdraw your bill regarding the national bank, or your illicit sleepovers will be front page news. Man, I bet Hamilton was sorry he ever created the New York Post.

Betsy Hamilton realizes that one cheating
husband is worth 13 united states.
But Hamilton cares nothing for his reputation, only for the the survival of the United States, further proof that we're watching a period piece. Betsy is ready to take the first coach out of Philadelphia, but stays when her husband assures her that his dalliance meant nothing. (Wives, take note!) 

Suddenly, Thomas Jefferson and most of Congress show up to let Hamilton know that they rewarded his honesty for admitting his affair by approving the national bank by an overwhelming majority. Moral of the story: cheating on your spouse is good for the country. (Wives, take note!) And for good measure, President George Washington shows up to offer his heartiest congratulations. (Wives -- ahh, you know the score by now).

Hamilton thanks Washington for defeating the British
by offering to put his face on a coin worth 25 cents. 
Having acted onstage since 1887, George Arliss' acting style was literally theatrical. But by the time of Alexander Hamilton, (which he originally played on Broadway in 1917), he was starting to tone things down -- even if he delivers a line like "No good news is good news" as if it were straight from the Bible.

Too, the movie offers some interesting historical highlights. Thomas Jefferson will agree to the national bank only if Hamilton agrees to put the U.S. capital in the South. In a slyly amusing moment, Hamilton, who has already decided that the capital should be built from scratch on the Potomac River, compliments Jefferson for thinking of it himself. This was the last time any politician allowed somebody else to take credit for a good idea.

"Thank you for your service... And that's a wrap!"
And speaking of history, I had no idea until Alexander Hamilton that General George Washington bade farewell to his troops on a Warner Brothers soundstage with a painted backdrop. History classes are worthless. (Just to prove the versatility of Alan Mowbray, the actor who portrays Washington, he later played Satan in The Devil with Hitler. I'd like to see de Niro try that.)

If you're unfamiliar with George Arliss, Alexander Hamilton isn't necessarily the place to start. I'd suggest his wonderfully witty performances in A Successful Calamity and The Last Gentleman (what a perfect title for him!), followed by the dramas The Man Who Played God and The Green Goddess. 

Now you know where Prince got the idea
for his stage outfits.
But you're not going to search them out, so why do I bother? Because, if nothing else, George Arliss gives you the rare chance to see a 19th-century stage actor walking and talking on your TV. It's like a damn episode of The Twilight Zone.

So if you don't know anyone in the cast of the current Hamilton musical in order to score a ticket, consider George Arliss' take on the great man. Remember, the play is just under 3 hours long, while the movie is a zippy 70 minutes -- and without all that darn hippity-hop music.


The original 1931 trailer for Alexander Hamilton. Imagine George Arliss on an Imax screen in 3-D.