Sunday, August 23, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Gentleman's Fate (1931) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

GENTLEMAN'S FATE is a gangster melodrama starring John Gilbert. It was just released by the Warner Archive as part of a "wave" of Gilbert titles.

GENTLEMAN'S FATE is the interesting, if somewhat depressing, tale of Jack Thomas (Gilbert). As the movie begins Jack has it made; he's a wealthy gentleman of leisure who lives in a swell NYC apartment and has just become engaged to lovely Marjorie (Leila Hyams).

Jack is shocked when his guardian (Paul Porcasi) suddenly dumps the news that Jack isn't the orphan he thought he was; his name is really Giacomo Tomasulo, and he has a father (Frank Reicher) and brother Frank (Louis Wolheim) living in New Jersey.

But wait, there's more: Jack's father and brother are mobsters, and Jack's father is dying of a gunshot wound and wants to see him.

Jack's life quickly escalates out of control, especially when the "family heirloom" emeralds Jack's dying father gives him for his fiancee turn out to be stolen -- from someone she knows! Next thing you know, Jack's marriage to Marjorie has been put on hold and he's working in the family business.

Gilbert is quite good in this; I liked him much better than I did in QUEEN CHRISTINA (1933), when he was a little too goofy for my taste. I admired the still, quiet way he stands and attempts to take in one shocking piece of news after another. There's also a beautiful scene late in the film when he and Anita Page look at one another for a very long moment and then he walks away and leaves her.

The movie's main problem for me, other than the fact that it's a bit sad watching someone's life gradually circling the drain, is that I find Louis Wolheim exceptionally tedious to watch. A few years ago I strongly disliked him in the film he made just before GENTLEMAN'S FATE, THE SILVER HORDE (1930), and I didn't like him any better in this one. The character did at least have some nuance, not turning out to be quite the villain we expect when we first meet him, but I simply don't enjoy the actor.

That said, I'm sorry to report that Wolheim died the month before this film was released. He was 50 years old. Wolheim had one other film released in 1931, THE SIN SHIP.

It's an additional sad footnote that Gilbert would himself die in 1936 and supporting actress Marie Prevost died in 1937. Each was 38 years old.

GENTLEMAN'S FATE was directed by Mervyn LeRoy, whose gangster classic LITTLE CAESAR (1931) was released just a couple of months previous to this title. GENTLEMAN'S FATE is a quieter film about a restrained man who is the polar opposite of Edward G. Robinson's Rico.

GENTLEMAN'S FATE runs 90 minutes. It was photographed by Merritt B. Gerstad. The supporting cast includes the previously mentioned Anita Page (seen at right) and Ferike Boros, George Cooper, John Miljan, and Ralph Ince.

The Warner Archive DVD print is quite good, especially considering the film's age. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


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