Monday, September 15, 2008

Eye Candy of the Day: Warren William

Warren William with Billie Dove in an as-yet unnamed film.
I first heard about Warren William from one of my regular readers, kda, and then read about him in Mick LaSalle's "Dangerous Men." Those two recommendations alone were enough to sign me up for his fan club, the only trouble was I hadn't actually seen any of the man's films. Well TCM this month has decided to be complete pre-code awesomeness and I finally got my Warren William movie, in the form of The Dark Horse. I was not disappointed.

William plays Hal Blake, a smooth political operator who is called in by a desperate party to get a patsy dark horse candidate, literally named "Hicks," elected governor. William was known as the poor-man's John Barrymore (perhaps, they should have said, Warner's John Barrymore, as it amounted to much the same thing) because of his likeness of profile. I think that's a really shallow assessment though, given what I've seen of Barrymore's acting. I can't see Barrymore touching this deviously cynical character whose chief troubles revolve trying to get his current girlfriend (Bette Davis) to help him with his alimony payments. Not exactly the type of noble character Barrymore would play. Warren also has a zany energy that is nothing like John Barrymore. If anything it recalls Cary Grant in His Girl Friday. In fact, I might go so far as to say that Grant's Walter Burns is almost an homage to the sort of slimy, yet charming characters that William played in his pre-code films.

Paired with smart and capable actresses, Bette Davis , and Vivianne Osborne as his backstabbing ex-wife, Warren William throws ethics both professional and romantic to the wind and the audience is completely prepared to still accept him as a hero. It goes to show that Grant could never have gotten away with playing Walter Burns the way he did if Rosalind Russel had been one bit less his equal. Bette Davis is not quite up to Roz Russell level of gal Friday perfection, but she certainly oozes intelligence and competence though she may be a bit stiff at times. Osborn fairs better as a woman who is every bit as unethical as her ex-husband, but lacking in his redeeming romanticism.

The Dark Horse is a perfect introduction to this actor, as it's timely, smart and funny. Looking beyond William's shellaced hair and pencil thin mustache, concessions to the Barrymore look, I'm sure, William reminds me of Liam Neeson of all people. An early scene in The Dark Horse reminded me so much of Neeson in Michael Collin's rousing the prisoner's to the cause of the Irish Independence that I was distracted for the first ten minutes of the film. Of course, Hal Blake knows nothing about the man he's praising in such grand terms, and is the first, but not the last instance of grand theatrics used to sell politics. This satire feels as fresh as the day it was made. The key points about the electorate needing to feel that the candidate is as stupid as they are certainly hit home in an election season where a Wellesley College graduate drank bourbon and talked NASCAR and a vice presidential candidate's chief qualifications have to do with the ability to shoot something besides her hunting companions.


Cliff Aliperti said...

Thanks for the Warren William post. I've seen probably close to three-quarters of WW's films, and was pretty excited that TCM had 3 more this month that I hadn't caught yet.

"The Dark Horse" is from his hey day, that's for sure, but it was a bit of a let-down for me. Warren William was great, pretty much as always, but the rest of the cast didn't do too much for me this time (not to be contradictory, but Guy Kibbee as Hicks really rubbed me wrong).

Here are my favorites from this period, hopefully TCM will help us out with these in future months:

The Mouthpiece (1932)
Skyscraper Souls (1932)
Employees' Entrance (1933)
The Mind Reader (1933)
Bedside (1934)

With honorable mention to The Match King (1932).

I think if you can catch any of those you'll see why I didn't think higher of The Dark Horse. It was good, but at the same time, I feel like the ones I mention above should be considered classics!

Thanks again, already great to read about Warren William!


kda0121 said...

Jen, the Dark Horse is a wonderful introduction to Warren Williams. I feel bad that previous entry Cliff felt let down. I thought the supporting cast was outstanding, particularly Guy Kibbee.

The other Warren William movies Cliff recommends are ones I heartily second, in addition to Three on a Match. Warren's part in that is secondary, but you get a chance to see Bette Davis, Joan Blondell and Ann Dvorak go through their paces.

William's star faded somewhat after the code came in and he seemed relegated to B movies, but they are also worth watching. It is very interesting to see him as film's first Perry Mason. His portrayal is a far cry from the stoic Raymond Burr of TV-dom. He also played P.I. Philo Vance in one movie and The Lone Wolf, aka Michael Lanyard in several movies of a very entertaining series.

It always makes me happy when someone else can appreciate some of these long forgotten actors and I'm glad you featured Warren William in your blog, Jen.

Jennythenipper said...

I loved Guy Kibbee. I liked the whole bit at the beginning with him cutting off his shoes. I also loved him in the scene with the campaign poster and the scene when he got caught on the barbed wire fence.

I loved the scene where Blake is calling out Underwood on plageurizing Lincoln and Hicks has his shoes off, again, so Blake has to try to distract the crowd from looking at him.

Comedy is subjective though and of course, having really high expectations of a movie isn't always the best thing. I just watched Trouble in Paradise for the first time last week. I liked it but I wasn't bowled over by it as much as I expected. (I'll be talking about it later this week on the Blog.)

I hope I get a chance to see the movies you mentioned, soon. Sadly I tivo-ed Living on Velvet when it was on a while back but deleted it before I watched it.

Cheers and thanks for posting.

kda0121 said...

I'm pretty ignorant and don't know for sure what tivo is. I have a DVD recorder and record my movies that way.

As to Trouble in Paradise, I would ask that you give it another view before blogging it. I really think it is Ernst Lubitsch at his best and I prefer it to Design for Living.

Living on Velvet is not a bad movie at all and well worth watching, although William's role is secondary and he actually plays a nice guy.

Cliff Aliperti said...

The funny thing is that I usually love Guy Kibbee, just not here. He's usually a bit goofy, but he felt like a cartoon character to me here. I guess it's a fine line.

Three On a Match is incredible, but you should probably feature that on an Ann Dvorak post as she's the highlight of that picture.

All those B-mysteries Jen mentions are a lot of fun too, especially the Lone Wolf group with Eric Blore.


Brett said...

I'm watching Lady for a Day (1933) and seeing Warren William for the first time. I totally agree -- he's so much like Liam Neeson it's uncanny!