Based on his own historical bio-play, it’s another Great Man Portrait from that master of not-much-disguise George Arliss, who knew perfectly well he was a wizened 63 playing a 30-something Hamilton as George Washington’s Sec. of Treasury. (Though what an exceptional Washington from character actor Alan Mowbray!) Surely the only Hamilton dramatization to avoid even mentioning Aaron Burr, it’s a tale of marital infidelity vs. National Bill of Financial Unity. No duel; no gunplay; no mention of illegitimacy; instead, Hamilton is tempted while his wife is away and falls into a sexual trap only to find his blackmail payoffs to the lady-in-question being used to smear his political motives. Will he own up to his wife for the good of the country? Not a bad little plot, but the dramaturgy is turgid, and made worse by having everyone add a gay little laugh at the end of every other line. Presumably a holdover from the stage which might work better had any of the lines a whiff of wit to them. Dreary as the dialogue is, the acting is both spirited and fun in its stagy manner, and John Aldolfi (director of most Arliss projects @ Warners before dying young in 1933 just as Arliss was heading over to 20th CENTURY) gets some handsome production values to play around with. Arliss may seem an unlikely star, a posh snob-appeal sort, but was really quite popular in his day.*
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The young wife who leads Hamilton astray (he can’t resist climbing the stairs to fetch a coat he let her borrow . . . FADE OUT), is played by June Collyer, but was done on B’way by doomed, legendary Jeanne Eagles. A breakthrough perf for her in 1917 thanks to Arliss who did much the same for a struggling Bette Davis in his very next film, THE MAN WHO PLAYED GOD/’32. How fitting that Eagles’ last two films, before her death from drug addiction in 1929, would both become famous Bette Davis vehicles: THE LETTER (filmed by Bette in ‘40) and JEALOUSY, retitled DECEPTION for Davis in 1946.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: In the days of Louis XIV, it was customary for a Kingly Emissary of some sort to appear at a play’s finale to straighten everything out for a fitting (usually happy) end. And the wittiest thing in this generally stiff play (it’s also the most wildly inappropriate) uses President Washington right at the end for a similar coup de théâtre.
CONTEST: *Indeed, Arliss’s popularity in a certain play lives on in a famous salad dressing, created for his enjoyment during a stop in San Francisco. Name the play & the dressing to win a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of your choice. Hint: not Ranch, not Blue Cheese.