Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Gentleman's Fate (1931)

Until recently, I'd never actually watched a John Gilbert talkie, so I couldn't really have an opinion on his supposedly problematic voice. My first thought about Gentleman's Fate, was that it reminded me rather a lot of a William Powell vehicle. Gilbert plays Jack Thomas a young playboy millionaire who has finally found a girl (Leila Hyams) with whom he can settle down and do some serious drinking. Then he gets a call from his benefactor and finds out that his father, whom he was always told was dead, is still alive and wants to see him. It turns out his real name is Gacimo Thomasulo and that his father is a kingpin bootlegger who has hidden his youngest son from the family business. As his father lies dying of a bullet wound he gets to know his older brother Frank, (Louis Wolhein) a brutish man in charge of the bootlegging empire. His father gives him a gift of some supposedly heirloom jewelry which predictably John wraps rounds his fiancee's neck at the first opportunity. Turns out that was "hot ice" and a neighborhood dinner party becomes awkward as the jewelry's previous owner lays claim. Oops. John winds up going to prison, but keeps quiet about his father's career to protect the dying man. With reputation gone and his fiancee married to another man, he gets out of prison and takes up the family business in earnest. He meets a gangster's moll (Anita Page) and decides to make an honest woman of her, though eventually their lifestyle catches up with them.

Throughout Gilbert is breezy and acerbic when called for and emotive without being soppy in the dramatic scenes, just like one would expect of well, William Powell. His voice is a tad reedy, but nothing I would notice if I weren't looking out for it. The only thing I can think is that his voice didn't match the romantic image that audiences had in their minds and then William Powell arrived around this time to take the sorts of roles to which Gilbert would have been best suited. It's really too bad, because Gilbert was a fine actor with many productive years ahead of him, when Hollywood hung him out to dry. Gentleman's Fate shows that he definitely had the potential to continue as a leading man.

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