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Thursday, December 8, 2011

TOAST OF THE TOWN (1937)

The real story of how Jim Fisk all but cornered the gold market, and started the ‘Black Friday’ panic of 1869 in the process, is hiding in plain sight on this routine bio-pic. Edward Arnold, whose big personality worked best in small doses, is the wheeler-dealer who made (and lost) a fortune playing the Yanks against the Rebs before conning his way back on top in New York with partners Cary Grant & Jack Oakie. Naturally, there’s a girl in the picture (Francis Farmer) for Arnold to pine for and Grant to nobly renounce. Stranded between hambones like Arnold & Oakie, Grant overacts alarmingly when he isn’t making cow-eyes at Farmer. But no one seems especially comfortable in this misfire. Arnold had better luck with a similar role in DIAMOND JIM/’35 (courting Jean Arthur to a Preston Sturges script), and a lot more rapport with the unlucky Ms Farmer on COME AND GET IT/’36. Everything’s a little forced here, and the episodes don’t feel complete; the financial doings rattle on and Farmer’s big stage show is all bows & curtains. Yet, it’s quite a lux production from indie producer Edward Small, with a top scripter (Dudley Nichols) and cleverly helmed by Rowland V. Lee, who knew how to squeeze a modest budget. But they all missed a great American morality tale and it's still waiting to be told. Perhaps a modern take on how the Koch Brothers almost cornered the Silver Market?

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Switching commodities, step back to 1909 for an early D.W. Griffith two-reeler, A CORNER IN WHEAT, one of his greatest early achievements. Still in lovely physical condition, beautiful & haunting.

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