Monday, June 13, 2016

ALEXANDER HAMILTON (1931)

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.

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

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