Sunday, December 14, 2008

Gentleman's Fate (1931)

Gentleman's Fate is another in a long line of early '30s films seemingly rigged by Louis B. Mayer in order to trash John Gilbert's career. This one does its part.

The plot of Gentleman's Fate is remarkably similar to the story of Michael Corleone in Mario Puzo's The Godfather: a respectable man is "pulled back" into his mob-based family when his father, the head thug, is on his deathbed. His violence-prone brother convinces him to join the gang, where he is eventually forced to commit a murder. His girlfriend wants nothing to do with his new occupation...does all this sound familiar?

This isn't 1972 Paramount, however, but 1931 MGM on a budget and, in fact, Gentleman's Fate is one of the sloppiest MGM films I've seen, with numerous continuity gaffes and anomalies, and some awkwardly bizarre and slapdash editing. Moreover, the screenplay is all over the map, bringing humor and contrivances to a story that needs stark realism to work.

John Gilbert gives it his best; that he didn't call in a shoddy performance regardless of the shoddy screenplay is admirable. Joining him are dependable actors Leila Hyams, Anita Page, Marie Provost, and Louis Wolheim (who was dying of cancer) as Gilbert's brother. Wolheim's perfect for the part, looking as if he'd stepped out of Chester Gould's Dick Tracy comic strip. Most of these actors were "in trouble" with the MGM head office at the time, and were perhaps cast in this film for punishment. Why make the audience suffer, though?

Gentleman's Fate is not available on DVD or VHS, but has been broadcast on Turner Classic Movies. Worth seeing for fans of the actors listed above, or for those interested in pre-code crime films.