Arliss Spoke and Wickets Shook
Disreali (1929) Helps History's Lesson Go Down
The creaking sound you hear is TCM bringing forth a first-ever talkie with George Arliss, Disraeli not often shown and (so far) not on DVD. This was really the show they'd remember GA for. He was identified with the part for board-trod of it, then screen playing same sans voice. Arliss overcame stiffness that plagued talkie thesps by tight cling to stage convention and inviting microphones in on the party. Of cameras, and more importantly swaying booms, he had no fear. The monocled master just took what worked on a stage and made movies accommodate it, experience in silents smoothing path to sound mastery. It needs Arliss projected large to catch sly inflections, his face a constant register of knowing humor. GA could get at funnybones even of a great unwashed, his following not limited to urban sophisticates. Most could identify and laugh with him, even when it was remote historical figures he impersonated.
|The Grand Arliss Gesture. Audiences Looked Forward To These. I Still Do.|
Helpful too was more people knowing then who Disraeli was, history less distant, and public education more rigorous, as of '29. Arliss wisely cast youth in support for Disraeli and elsewhere, knowing pretty faces beyond his own singular countenance were needed. Disqualified as sex lure, Arliss would be Dan Cupid in the alternative, empire matters taking back seat to union of callow lovebirds. All that took onus off dry parchment and made Arliss schooling like all-the-time recess. If he seems an outlandish show-off today ... well, that was just mastery of the craft talking, flamboyance an Arliss signature writ by a disciplined hand. Disraeli is remarkable for being (a one and only?) spy thriller played out at a single garden and sitting room, close quarters in which to haggle the fate of a nation. Disraeli was a hit ($1.4 million in worldwide rentals), the biggest such of GA's Warner career, and a rare mating of prestige with money. Arliss had taken the old concept of "Famous Players In Famous Plays" and finally made it pay. I don't wonder at Warners giving him such creative leeway over vehicles to come.
More George Arliss at Greenbriar Archive: Getting In George's Groove, a youthful George Arliss (was there ever such a thing?), and Voltaire.