GREAT GARRICK, THE (director: James Whale; screenwriter: from the play “Ladies and Gentlemen” by Ernest Vajda/Ernest Vajda/Rowland Leigh; cinematographer: Ernest Haller; editor:Warren Low ; music: Adolph Deutsch; cast: Brian Aherne (David Garrick), Olivia de Havilland (Germaine de la Corbe), Edward Everett Horton (Tubby), Melville Cooper (M. Picard), Lionel Atwill (Beaumarchais), Etienne Girardot (Jean Cabot), Luis Alberni (Basset), Lana Turner (Auber), Marie Wilson (Nicolle), Linda Perry (Molee), Fritz Leiber (Horatio), Albert Dekker (M. LeBrun); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Mervyn LeRoy; Warner Bros.; 1937)
“One of Whale’s most joyous films.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
James Whale’s (“The Old Dark House”/”Frankenstein”/”The Invisible Man”) neglected period farce deserves more attention and love; it’s one of Whale’s most joyous films and shows he can make great comedies outside of the horror genre. It’s taken from the play “Ladies and Gentlemen” by Ernest Vajda and scripted by the Hungarian author. It’s an unhistorical conceit about the real life legendary 18th century actor David Garrick, superbly played by Brian Aherne with just the right amount of whimsical swagger.
Garrick in 1750 in London’s Drury Lane Theatre Royal announces during his farewell curtain speech after playing Hamlet to wild cheers that he’s accepted an invitation to act in Paris in a production put on by the Comédie Française. The cheers turn to boos as he tells them that he’s leaving and the only thing that stops the boos is when Garrick tells them he will “teach the French how to act.” The French actors hear about this and are determined to teach the great but arrogant actor a lesson in humility and as part of their scheme take over the roadside inn called the Adam & Eve, which they completely staff with their actors. But a prompter who was at one time a bit French actor, Jean Cabot (Etienne Girardot), who long ago played the gravedigger in a Hamlet production in Scotland with Garrick and still idolizes him, rides to warn the actor of the deception. When Garrick and his fellow actor sidekick Tubby (Edward Everett Horton) arrive at the inn they are prepared for the actors’ attempts to frighten him by playing practical jokes on him such as having a crazy waiter intimidate him, guests fighting duels, attractive female guests flirting with him and a blacksmith destroying the wheel of his carriage. The idea is to ridicule him so he will be too scared to perform in Paris. During dinner a harried attractive young woman arrives and when the innkeeper tries to send her away because the inn is full, Garrick gives up his room and sleeps with Tubby. Garrick flirts with the woman who is named Germaine (Olivia de Havilland), who tells him she’s running away from her father who wants her to marry someone she doesn’t love. The actor thinks she’s only performing her role, but doesn’t know that she is in fact a runaway countess and not one of the actors and for real is swept off her feet by the great actor’s attentions and declarations of love. Turning their acting trick against them after leading them on all this time, Garrick reveals that he knew all along what they were up to and then precedes to critique their performances as stilted. He then goes to Germaine’s room and lashes out at her as giving the worst performance of all, calling her a no talent with no heart. The stung Germaine leaves at once. When in Paris to perform after the French actors are so impressed with him that they insist he come, he discovers Germaine is not there and realizes he really was attracted to her and feels bad he treated her so rotten that she’s given up acting. He then learns she is not one of the troupe and feels so heartbroken that he wants to cancel his performance, as it dawns on him that he thought real life emotions were bad acting. But he finds her in the audience and all is forgiven, and Garrick goes on to give a great performance as Don Juan.
It’s a thoroughly enjoyable romantic comedy, with the ensemble cast in fine form and under Whale’s able direction it catches all the fun in the farce.
REVIEWED ON 7/6/2006 GRADE: A
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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