Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Dark Horse (1932)

The Progressive Party is hopelessly deadlocked with trying to nominate a candidate for Governor. One side of the deadlock has a brilliant idea. They decide to nominate a "dark horse" candidate from the same county their competition is from so that the votes will be split and their guy will be nominated. Unfortunately, the other deadlocked side realizes what they are trying to do and decide to vote the "dark horse" candidate in rather than lose altogether. Of course, neither side knows anything about the "dark horse" candidate, other than his name, so now they are stuck trying to get a moon-faced, blithering idiot named Zachary Hicks (Guy Kibbee) into the Governor's spot. Enter Kay Russell (Bette Davis), the party's secretary, who has the answer to all their problems. Her boyfriend Hal Blake (Warren William) is a brilliant campaign manager who could run a successful campaign to get a turnip elected president. The party agrees to hire him and the antics are off and running.

Guy Kibbee, Vivienne Osborne and Warren William in "The Dark Horse"

This is a great political satire and Warren William is awesome, awesome, awesome in it. His performance crackles with energy. He is such a character - so charming. You know he is a bit of a shyster, but he is so good at being a shyster that you don't even care. He can launch into an impassioned speech at the drop of the hat to make you believe anything that he is trying to sell to you and ... you enjoy the sales pitch. Here is a perfect example, from after a sheriff breaks down his door, which he knew was coming and plays it so outraged and almost pious it is hilarious:

"What do you ruffians mean by breaking in like this? Is there no privacy in America? Has the time passed when a man's home is his castle? When you smash in my door, the laws of America crash around our heads. This is outrageous!!!!"

I remember Warren William from "Three On A Match", but didn't think too much about him then - he didn't stand out to me. In this role, not only did he stand out but he literally jumped off the screen! I can't wait to see him in more movies.

Every time I watch an early Bette Davis film I am always struck with her beauty. She looks very little like she did when she got older and really gained popularity. She looks like a cute sorority girl. She does well with the role of ... I guess the ingenue here. It is obvious that the studio didn't really know what they had yet and put her in cutesy roles where she could be sassy, but not fierce like she would be later in her career.

The supporting cast is great - which would actually include Bette Davis as supporting cast, but I have already talked about her. Guy Kippee plays Zachary Hicks, the idiot candidate, and boy does he play idiot well. I love the campaign slogan, "Vote for Hicks from the Sticks". He also has this weird way of smiling, where he bats his eyelashes like a girl, which makes him seem even more idiotic. I swear, either he is a true idiot or a great character actor. I think Warren William's character sums the candidate up best when asked what he thought of him after first meeting him. He said, "He's the dumbest human being I ever saw. Every time he opens his mouth he subtracts from the sum total of human knowledge." Ouch.

Also, I shouldn't leave out Vivienne Osborne. She plays Hal Blake's ex-wife and even though I didn't mention her at all in the plot synopsis, she plays heavily into the plot later in the film. She is pretty ... pretty calculating, that is. I kept going back and forth on my feelings about her because in one scene she seems like she might be nice, but later, you realize she is really only out to bleed anyone and everyone she can. I have to ask, how on earth did that woman get $400 / week alimony in 1932?!?!?!?! That is $1,600 a month!! In 1932?!?!?!?!

Lastly, I want to mention Frank McHugh as Joe. Joe is the go-to-guy (or crony, I guess) for Hal Blake's character. I really loved the scene where he is insulting Zachary Hicks, without realizing that the person he is talking to is actually Hicks himself. When someone calls out Hicks name and the guy walks off, Joe realizes what he has done. He takes off his hat and starts beating his head against the wall. I laughed out loud because, good golly, I have wanted to do that many times myself.

I love political satire and social commentary about the American public. They do this in a light humorous way and tossed other elements in to keep the movie interesting for everyone. The performances are great too. If this film comes on TV (it isn't available on DVD) I highly recommend you watch it. I don't think anyone would be disappointed with it.


Jennythenipper said...

Sounds like you celebrated the inaug, the same way I did, with a pre-code political satire! This is a great one, isn't it? I'm not ashamed to say, I totally heart WW. He reminded me quite a bit of Cary Grant's character in His Girl Friday "wonderful in a loathsome sort of way." Your comment on the alimony made me LOL. Totally, $400 A WEEK? WTF!

AbbyNormal said...

Jenny - yes, Warren William is quite the find. I definitely want to see more of his work. I think I was delayed with my celebrating of the inaug with a political satire, but my heart was definitely in the right place. :-)