CARDINAL RICHELIEU (director: Rowland V. Lee; screenwriters: from a play by Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton/Cameron Rogers/Maude Howell/W. P. Lipscomb; cinematographer: Peverell Marley; editor: Sherman Todd; music: Alfred Newman; cast: George Arliss (Cardinal Richelieu), Halliwell Hobbes (Father Joseph), Edward Arnold (Louis XIII), Violet Cooper (Queen Marie), Kathryn Alexander (Queen Anne), Maureen O’Sullivan (Lenore), Francis Lister (Gaston), Cesar Romero (Andre DePons), Douglas Dumbrille (Baradas); Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Darryl Zanuck; United Artists; 1935)

“Directed in a fine technical workmanlike way.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A George Arliss vehicle based on the popular but rigid 19th-century play by Lord Edward Bulwer-Lytton, that’s written by Cameron Rogers, Maude Howell and W. P. Lipscomb. It was Arliss’s last American film, whose remaining films were British. The old-fashioned fictionalized biopic of the unscrupulous Cardinal Richelieu (George Arliss), who had his hooks in the back of the ineffectual Louis XIII (Edward Arnold), serving as the King’schief minister in 1624 until his death in 1642, is directed in a fine technical workmanlike way by Rowland V. Lee (“Son of Frankenstein”/”The Count of Monte Cristo”/”Captain Kidd”) and works despite being so theatrical.

The film’s most memorabledramatic moment is when the Cardinal’s many foes, because of his edict consolidating France under the absolute authority of the King, intend to banish him from the throne-room before he can inform the King of the treacherous plot against France by these insider French aristocrats secretly allied with influential foreign powers to remove the French King from the throne. Confronting his enemies, the wily churchman smugly reminds them of his priestly right to call down eternal damnation on their heads. That artful deceit is followed by the tricky Cardinal deliberately lying to the Queen (Violet Cooper) in order to obtain the coveted document which can restore him again to Louis’ good graces. The filmmaker takes pleasure in admiring the cunning power-hungry Richelieu’s strategy to outfox his rivals, even if that diminishes him to be a modern-day Tricky Dick type of politician and someone looking out more for himself than those he owes allegiance to.

It never goes out of fashion to observe how those in power or seeking power maneuver to get their way, and this mildly entertaining historical melodrama involving court intrigue never strays far from being enjoyable in showing how such a likable scoundrel as the Cardinal operates.

Also playing important roles are the following: Louis’ power-hungry brother Gaston (Francis Lister); the Cardinal’s young ward Lenore (Maureen O’Sullivan) and handsome Andre de Pons (Cesar Romero), who are young lovers brought together by the grandfatherly sly fox for his own political and nonsectarian ends; and the aristocratic schemer Baradas (Douglas Dumbrille), who is putting all his energy into causing Richelieu’s downfall.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”