(director: Rowland V. Lee; screenwriters: Dudley Nichols/Joel Sayre/John Twist/based on Robber Barons by Matthew Josephson and The Book of Daniel Drew by Bouck White; cinematographer: Peverell Morley; editors: George Hively/Samuel Beetley; music: Nathaniel Shilkret; cast: Edward Arnold (Jim Fisk), Cary Grant (Nick Boyd), Frances Farmer (Josie Mansfield), Jack Oakie (Luke), Donald Meek (Daniel Drew), Thelma Leeds (Fleurique), Clarence Kolb (Cornelius Vanderbilt); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Edward Small; RKO; 1937)

A hokey fictitious biopic.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A hokey fictitious biopic, that plays fast and loose with the facts, but not to the point you lose track of its anti-hero as a scoundrel. It tells of the rags-to-riches rise of the 19th century unscrupulous Wall Street tycoon, Jim Fisk (Edward Arnold), who rose from a Yankee peddler during the Civil War to one of America’s most influential financiers. Director Rowland V. Lee(“Return of Dr. Fu Manchu”/”Zoo in Budapest”/”Son of Frankenstein”) sticks to the malarkey and keeps things entertaining, but never veers that far from the truth. It’s based on the best-seller Robber Barons by Matthew Josephson and The Book of Daniel Drew by Bouck White.

Fisk partners with the Britisher Nick Boyd (Cary Grant) and Luke (Jack Oakie), and after smuggling cotton bought at low prices from destitute southern farmers whose land was occupied by Union troops during the Civil War, he sells it to the English for a great profit. Fisk later orchestrated a few tricky deals with tycoons Jay Gould and his tightwad wealthy pious Uncle Daniel Drew (Donald Meek), and emerged as a rival of the powerful capitalist Cornelius Vanderbilt (Clarence Kolb) after the war when he seized control of the Erie Railroad. Vanderbilt got fleeced when trying to build a transportation monopoly and was unaware that Fisk and Gould were illegally printing more stock certificates for the railroad and dumping them on the market. Later the robber baron trio of Drew, Fisk and Gould, on insider info, attempted to corner the gold market in September 1869, with a run on gold. The attempt failed and the fallout caused the stock market to crash and this financial disaster was called Black Friday.

Frances Farmer, as Fisk’s actress-protegee and mistress Josie Mansfield, gets her character changed from a whore to a ingenue actress.

Fisk’s great wealth enabled him to buy politicians for support and prevent jail for all his corrupt acts. His end comes unceremoniously when shot by an irate investor he tricked into losing his fortune because of his nefarious gold scheme.

The film might be diverting, but it only slightly tells the Fisk story.