Wherein Jack Mopes
Redemption (1930) Won't Redeem Gilbert's Boxoffice
I pushed myself through Redemption last night and tried to figure again what went so disastrously wrong for Jack Gilbert. Everyone (now) wants to insist that it wasn't the voice, which we buffs lean toward liking, but that doesn't mean 1930 audiences had to. A problem at the time was fact this was not what they expected Gilbert to sound like. His dark appearance and smoldering appeal suggested something deeper to silent pic-goers. Were they prepared for the pleasant tenor that emerged with His Glorious Night, and then this? Redemption was the first of star-era Gilberts to lose money, and word got round fast. Photoplay magazine had begun counting him out even before Redemption was released. If there's evidence of studio ploy to wreck JG, it surely comes of such articles and the way out of left field Variety review of His Glorious Night, which I have long considered the smoking gun in conspiracy's arsenal.
The obvious problem with Redemption is the utterly downer story it tells. Why in heaven tender Jack as a layabout loser at need's height for an upbeat vehicle, or even a change of pace toward precode newness? Tragic too was Metro's refusal to loan Gilbert when Howard Hawks wanted him for The Dawn Patrol. That, I think, would have secured Jack's talking career, judging by rentals the show took when Warners released it in 1930. A cruel aspect of Redemption was putting Gilbert one-on-one with pitch-perfect Conrad Nagel, then regarded a best of voices so far recorded for nascent talkies. Their call and response in scenes running long, and between them only, tend to emphasize Nagel's rich and deeper cadence as contrast to Gilbert, a comparison that would have gone Nagel's way in lately-wired '30 venues. Redemption got scathing reviews --- you can't help thinking Metro sort of let that happen --- but watch again today, especially beside truly rotten product Leo was pitching, and Redemption doesn't seem quite so bad. TCM plays it infrequently, that understandable for one so limited to "archival" interest.