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Friday, May 03, 2019

Not A Gamble Where Colman Leads


Personality Propels The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo (1935)

It was understood in the 30's that movies were make-believe. Stagecraft going back to the ancients encouraged a same acceptance. Props and flats conveyed locale to satisfaction of all, as who expected filmmakers to do foreign backdrop for real? It was miracle enough that they simulated it so well. Are we too severe for shunning process screens and other quaint fakery of a pre-Cinemascope era? It was wider screens that forced studios to go afield. By then, audiences wanted the real thing, or nothing. The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo is then a charming cameo from time when second units and mock-ups could transport us far away as Grandma's stereo slides off the parlor table. Monte Carlo was a gambler's paradise most had read about or seen in Sunday supplements, but who in 1935 actually visited the place? Here was why Hollywood worried less about authenticity of backgrounds, at least during prewar time when the world seemed smaller. Besides, with suavity of Ronald Colman on exhibit, what matter where the thing was set, so long as he stayed front/center?






Colman was by-then a talkie ace of insubstantial vehicles. I wonder how long he could have lasted bringing so much to so little. A Tale Of Two Cities and Lost Horizon didn't come a moment too soon for this idol of matinees serving soufflé. What had Goldwyn given him of dramatic weight other than Arrowsmith? And yet there's little so pleasurable as Colman a romantic will-of-the-wisp in The Devil To Pay, The Masquerader, others of his Goldwyn output. But Colman fell out, and badly, with the producer. Seems Goldwyn, who couldn't keep his trap shut even in best of times, inferred that Ronnie worked best after he tippled a few, to which Colman issued denial, then quit Sam cold. That may have been good and necessary move, for it was elsewhere that Colman would become an icon, at least for what was left of the 30's, if not for modern viewers.




Fox's Biggest Little Star Visits Colman and Director Stephen Roberts on The Set


But how does he register for today's audience? Ones I've sat with, including youth, find Colman relaxed equivalent to still-liked William Powell. Both had a same line in wit and grace at romance, as opposed to caveman stuff of a Gable or Cagney that goes down less well nowadays. There's admittedly little to The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo beyond Ronald Colman, but where that's sufficient, it is value for time, and there is interest of Colin Clive in a fairly benign support part. Joan Bennett is the lead lady, Monte Carlo still in simp blonde period she so deplored, and would break free of within a few years. Directing was Stephen Roberts, who died young, but left this and some agreeable Bill Powell mystery/comedies for RKO release. The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo is seldom sighted on television, was MIA on DVD until Fox On-Demand finally issued a disc, which is OK from quality's standpoint.


Colman Models a Latest in Fur-Lined Dressing Gowns


The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo was a short film (64 minutes) that nevertheless merited a Radio City Music Hall opening. Distributors fought for such berths. In fact, they'd often go to court to protect bookings in controversy. A high-profile first run was valuable to establish your product as a must-see for patronage down the line. The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo helped kick off the initial season for 20th Century Fox, a company newly merged from Joseph Schenck and Darryl Zanuck's Twentieth-Century and what was left of a struggling Fox Film Corporation. Here was a new and very major producing/distributing/exhibiting powerhouse anointed by in-place firms that saw room for another class outfit to share playing time with.


Colman With Director Stephen Roberts On The Set


In fact, more than one executive from "competing" studios would invest in 20th Century Fox, the word competing perhaps a misnomer in view of corporations that were, throughout a Classic Era, very much in bed with each other, and sharing bounty they earned for keeping real competition out. Independent producers had to claw ways uphill to eke a living while these titans ran the table. Smart operators like Zanuck knew that a best way to beat the cartel was to join it. The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo was the sort of polished merchandise to put industry and public on notice that 20th Fox was a firm to reckon with, and dependable supplier of entertainment to come. The film's value as a calling card would be considerable as Fox joined ranks of a "Big Five" (MGM, Warner Bros,. RKO, Paramount being others) to dominate movies for the rest of the 30's and most of the 40's, until divorcement of production and exhibition brought the party to a close.

2 Comments:

Blogger DBenson said...

Powell had a magical knack for clowning and playing drunk without losing his innate classiness. As Nick Charles he mixed effortlessly with Damon Runyon thugs while remaining smooth and sophisticated (and, not incidentally, a calm, capable detective).

Colman was a little wistful; there was a bit of a sigh behind the assured smile when he pitted old-fashioned gallantry against a cynical world. To quote myself, you could cast him as a caveman and he'd still seem to looking back to an earlier, better era. His radio show, "The Halls of Ivy", a little improbably insisted he was a midwestern academic (real-life mate Benita Hume played his wife as British born). The episodes I've heard have a definite charm since they play to Colman's strengths. He's an old school scholar, wryly aware how far his job as as president of a minor college takes him from that. The gentle scripts often oblige him to focus on fundraising and small-town dustups; he leavens his big screen charm with little fits of comic pique and frustration over sitcom problems.

1:34 PM  
Blogger Tommie Hicks said...

Thanks for those rare pix of Stephen Roberts at work. From Al St.John to Ronald Colman, what a variety!

6:13 PM  

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