For Reel

The Millionaire (1931)
June 25, 2016, 4:57 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: John G. Adolfi
3.5 Stars
The MillionaireIn the early-1930s, there is perhaps no better example of a Hollywood star as the auteur of their films than George Arliss. After prestige picture Disraeli proved to be a big hit, the unlikely star not only had the respect of his peers, but new freedom at the studios. The Millionaire is a key example of Arliss’ forward-thinking genius in that he personally cast James Cagney for the role of a braggadocios insurance salesman who prompts the turning point in the film. It’s a small but crucial role, and the scene itself is a fascinating clash in styles—it is remarkable that a British thespian with a theater background could recognize the brilliance in Cagney’s unhinged, neurotic line deliveries. The rest of the picture is as charming as one would expect from Arliss, rife with his bemused reactions as he slyly controls the people around him, working as a sort of puppet master over the younger generation. As charming as the later scenes are (Evalyn Knapp is irresistible as his young daughter), Arliss’ true genius tends to come through in the melancholic moments. Here, there’s a bittersweet farewell to the automobile factory he built. The sequence plays much longer than one might typically expect, and Arliss focuses on the gestures with terrific detail—the way he studies the engine he innovated, how he throws his keys on the table. A bittersweet piano rendition of Auld Lang Syne accompanies the scene, giving equal credence to both the farewell and to the promise of the future (the poetic equivalent of the Cagney/Arliss scene, which similarily carries the weight of the passing of a generation and the rise of the next).


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