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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

CARDINAL RICHELIEU (1935)

Irresistible historical nonsense from Victorian melodramatist Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, still known from THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII. (And for convincing Charles Dickens to soften the ending of GREAT EXPECTATIONS.) No doubt, his play is stiff as a detachable celluloid shirt collar (Henry Irving made his name on it), but producer Darryl Zanuck has Rowland V. Lee to carve things up neatly. Lee had a real gift for mounting this sort of barnstorming claptrap at-a-price as he did on THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO/’34 with Robert Donat.* This example of the form has 17th Century French nobility up in arms against Richelieu (George Arliss) for consolidating all their powers into the hand of Edward Arnold’s ungrateful Louis XIII while taking a nice cut for himself. On the romantic front, Maureen O’Sullivan is a pretty ward for dashing Cesar Romero to fall in love with and for the philandering King to covet. (Romero’s character is hilariously daft, changing allegiances faster than the chorus in a Gilbert & Sullivan first-act finale.) Those who know Arliss only from slow early-Talkies like DISRAELI/’29 will be pleasantly surprised to find a forceful & cunning stage presence, with touches of dash & humor on display. He’s a delight, as is the whole film which just gets better as it goes along. The films Zanuck made before merging with FOX are tough to get at, so kudos to 20th/Fox-Cinema Archives for the V.O.D. copy.

LINK/DOUBLE-BILL: You can compare Lee’s nifty handling of this terrain by watching Arliss’s previous historical, THE HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD/’34, which never quite gets going under Alfred Werker. (Though it does end with a split-reel of early 3-strip-TechniColor.) It may not be out of DVD, but you can check out a decent dupe at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pk93JIkolAU

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