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 the country and crown are 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 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 the 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.