Caftan Woman

Caftan Woman

Saturday, November 7, 2015

SWASHATHON: The Son of Monte Cristo (1940)


She's at it again!  Fritzi of Movies, Silently is hosting the "Swashathon", a blogathon devoted to derring-do in classic film.  The festival runs from November 7th to the 9th.

The introduction to 1940s The Son of Monte Cristo takes us to tiny, but proud Lichtenburg, the jewel of the Balkans in 1865.  The country, we are told, is steeped in the ancient traditions of romance and chivalry - so too is our story.



George Sanders, Joan Bennett

Above is the villain of our piece, General Gurko Lanen, menacing the Grand Duchess Zona.  George Sanders plays General Lanen with his usual suave surety, excepting scenes where he lays his heart on the line to the disinterested (putting it mildly) Grand Duchess played by Joan Bennett.  General Lanen is the son of a stone mason who has a dream of becoming master of Lichtenburg and Zona.  The first goal is within his grasp, and he will stop at nothing to achieve the second.  It will take an unusually brave hero to fight General Lanen.  In fact seeing as it is George Sanders, it will take a whole group of heroes before country and crown is rescued.



Rand Brooks, Clayton Moore, Henry Brandon, Louis Hayward

Saint vs. Saint.  George Sanders was a very busy actor in Hollywood in the late 30s and early 40s with series such as "The Saint", "The Falcon" and features that include Confessions of a Nazi Spy, Man Hunt (co-starring Joan Bennett), Foreign Correspondent and Rebecca.  Louis Hayward was the first actor to play Simon Templar on screen in 1938s The Saint in New York.  His swashbuckling Hollywood debut in 1936s Anthony Adverse marked him as a stalwart in such roles, but his diverse career also includes such titles as Ladies in Retirement, And Then There Were None, Repeat Performance, Walk a Crooked Mile and House by the River.

A chance encounter with Zona of Lichtenburg finds our young hero totally smitten.  Being the son of the fabled Count of Monte Cristo, young Edmund has inherited his father's hatred of tyranny and  Dantes Jr. flings himself into the Lichtenburg cause joining a group of underground freedom fighters.

I mentioned a gaggle of heroes, didn't I?  The leader of the group is an army lieutenant Fritz Dorner played by 26-year-old Clayton Moore (The Lone Ranger).  It's Moore's familiar voice, but without a mask, and he's a real baby-face.  A hothead who uses the power of the press is Hans Mirbach played by 22-year-old Rand Brooks (Gone With the Wind).  Within the decade Brooks would don the hero sidekick cowboy hat as Lucky Jenkins in the Hopalong Cassidy series.  Briefly (all too briefly) we see Ralph Byrd (Dick Tracy) as prisoner William Gluck who figuratively spits in Lanen's eye.  Henry Brandon (Babes in Toyland, The Searchers) plays the brave, but doomed Lt. Schultz.  

Hayward, who co-starred with Joan Bennett in 1939s The Man in the Iron Mask wherein he played the dual role of arrogant king and tormented twin brother, here takes on three personas.  In order to get inside the palace, Dantes adopts the guise of a foolish fop who must endure Zona's scorn to appear harmless to Lanen.  He also becomes a masked avenger known as The Torch who has a way with a sword and a way of stirring things up.  The Torch leaves a cryptic note for the General who comments:  "This man is dangerous.  He has a sense of humour."  Love that line.  The Son of Monte Cristo is a fun mix of political machinations, romance, secret tunnels, leaping and sword fighting with an appealing hero and a hissable villain.  Who could ask for anything more?

Excelling among the supporting cast are Florence Bates as the Grand Duchess' confidante, Montagu Love as an honourable prime minister and Ian Mac Wolfe (the only time I've seen Ian Wolfe billed as such) as a two-faced, rat of a spy.  Also, keep your eyes peeled for Dwight Frye as the Russian ambassador's secretary.




Rowland V. Lee directed The Son of Monte Cristo.  You may be familiar with some of these titles from Lee's 25-year film directing career.  Zoo in Budapest starring Loretta Young, The Count of Monte Cristo starring Robert Donat, 1935s The Three Musketeers, One Rainy Afternoon with Ida Lupino and Francis Lederer, Son of Frankenstein with Bela Lugosi as Ygor, Tower of London with Boris Karloff as Mord, and The Bridge of San Luis Rey from Thornton Wilder's novel.  

The Count of Monte Cristo, our feature and Toast of New York with Edward Arnold as Diamond Jim Brady are the three films Lee made with independent producer Edward Small (1892-1977).  Small entered the industry as a teenager by working as an artist's representative.  He began producing films in the 1920s and continued to do so until 1970.  His name is a familiar one to those of us who grew up glued to the television whenever an old movie was scheduled.  Edward Small had a hand in many favourite adventure tales, sci-fi, film-noir and comedies.  Check out these titles:  The Last of the Mohicans, The Corsican Brothers, Brewster's Millions, Raw Deal, Kansas City Confidential, Walk a Crooked Mile, It! The Terror from Beyond Space, etc.  Between 1938 and 1948, Small and leading man Louis Hayward collaborated on seven features, the majority of them being swashbucklers.  I've had the impression that even though movies were his business, Edward Small was one of us - a movie fan.


24 comments:

  1. This sounds like a terrific yarn! What's not to love about a movie with "a gaggle of heroes"? (That made me laugh.) Plus George Sanders as the villain?! Ingredients for a perfect movie, if you ask me. Thanks for sharing this. I must see it.

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    1. Nobody can be as attractive in his villain roles as George Sanders!

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  2. I agree that it would take "a whole group of heroes before country and crown is rescued" with Sanders as the villain!! You had me as soon as I saw he was in it. This sounds like a blast.

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    1. It has all of the good-natured sense of fun that required by a swashbuckler. All those familiar faces make it a Saturday matinee friendly sort of flick.

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  3. Never woulda recognized Sanders with that mustache and crew cut.

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    1. He sports a similar buzz cut in the previous year's "Confessions of a Nazi Spy". Whatever else he may have been, our George was not vain. It isn't his best look and at first glance you think "who is that?" and then he starts to speak.

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  4. I've never seen this one. Sounds like almost a semi-sequel to Hayward and Bennett's "The Man In The Iron Mask". And with Rowland V. Lee directing, I bet it's pretty good.

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    1. I think they may well have been trying to recapture some of the magic of the earlier film. It is not in that league, but I find it entertaining.

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  5. Gosh, we'll have to watch this one just to see all those bit players. I must admit I often get confused on which Louis Hayward film we've seen before and which we haven't ( some of them are quite forgettable ) but The Man in the Iron Mask was exciting. If you say this has all the makings of a Saturday matinee flick then that's good enough for us!

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    1. I understand. Young Louis, older Louis - still having to take villains to task with his airy ways and swordplay. It is those up and comers in the cast that give it a nice energy that pleases me.

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  6. Ooh... Ruritania meets Dumas? I must, must, must se this!

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    1. You nailed it! Ruritania meets Dumas. Ha!

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  7. Hi Caftan Woman. I have not seen this one, but you make me want to. Edward Small produced some good ones, Rowland V Lee directed some good ones, and Louis Hayward appeared in some good ones. And Saint vs Saint -- that was a great observation.

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    1. It's something I might term a "cozy" swashbuckler. Full of familiar faces and themes, done with style.

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  8. Thanks so much for joining in! George Sanders just could not leave poor Joan Bennett alone, could he? Though it sounds like she came out much better in this film than she did in Man Hunt.

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    1. Thank you. Yes, Joan won this round.

      I enjoy blogathons, but I have got to say that there is something special about this one. There's a lot of enthusiasm from all the contributors.

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  9. I am not, by nature, a Louis Hayward fan. However, I think this is one of his most watchable films and George Sanders always make a marvelous villain.

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    1. "Gasp!" That was my inner fan girl.

      This picture does have its own charm and is a fun watch.

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  10. So the director of Son of Frankenstein also did Son of Monte Cristo? Ha!
    Well, the descriptions make the film sound as a cool curiosity (seriously: three personas!) and I'd totally watch it for Joan Bennett!
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!
    Le

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    1. Thank you.

      Hey, maybe we should have a "Son of..." blogathon someday.

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  11. Gurko? Zona? I do wonder sometimes who comes up with these names. (Wouldn't Smith and Mary do?) Still, I love George Sanders and I'd watch about anything with him. I also think Louis Hayward was seriously underutilized in Hollywood; he never seemed to find the right role that would have made him a first-rank star. These old swashbucklers are so much fun to watch; they're like the perfect Saturday afternoon movie!

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    1. I bet they took one full day of rehearsal just to learn to say the names and keep a straight face! We are in total agreement on Mr. Hayward.

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  12. I used to watch this over and over when I was a kid. It usually showed up on Million Dollar Movie or one of the other handy 'movie' channels. At any rate, I loved swashbucklers then, I love swashbucklers now. Thanks for all the additional info too.
    My only quibble with the film is that everyone spoke with a different accent, mostly American. I probably only noticed that when I grew up and became more finicky. :)

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    1. Better no accent than a poor accent, I always say. Well, I don't always say that, but we both know the occasions where it applies. It is a very likable movie and if you develop a fondness for it as a kid, it will stay with you.

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