Pre-Code Crazy: Gentleman’s Fate (1932)

If you’re like me, you’ve heard the following about John Gilbert: (1) he was romantically involved with and came close to marrying Greta Garbo, and (2) his film career fizzled and died a few years after the introduction of talking pictures. Generally speaking, Gilbert’s failure to thrive in talkies is attributed either to a high-pitched speaking voice or a feud with MGM head Louis Mayer that resulted in a dearth of quality film roles.  But whatever the reason that Gilbert was only seen in 10 mostly forgettable post-silent era films before his untimely death in 1936, I’m here to say that his Gentleman’s Fate (1932) is a first-rate pre-Code feature that’s well worth your time.

The salad days.

In this film, Gilbert stars as Jack Thomas, a wealthy, orphaned playboy who decides to give up his womanizing ways in order to settle down and marry his lady love, Marjorie (Leila Hyams). But Jack is thrown for a loop soon after making this decision when he not only learns that his name is actually Giacomo Tomasulo, but also that he has a brother and a dying father who make their living through organized crime. Although this news turns his world upside down, and he’s initially ashamed and repulsed by his heritage, Jack eventually comes to embrace life on the dark side.

Favorite character:

Hands-down, it’s Jack’s brother, Frank, played to perfection by Louis Wolheim, who has a face that only a mother could love. When Frank first meets his refined, upper-class sibling, he’s contemptuous; after Jack tells him that he spends his days playing tennis and polo, and sometimes dabbling in painting, Frank retorts: “Oh, you paint, do yah? Well, we’ve got a truck outside that needs painting. Could you do that?”

Gilbert and Wolheim as the Tomasulo brothers.

Frank patently resents his brother’s sudden appearance in his life, and he obviously doesn’t share their father’s wish to bring Jack into the family business, but he grows to grudgingly respect his brother after Jack challenges him to a fistfight. That respect eventually grows into genuine brotherly love. It’s really touching and heartfelt.

Trivia tidbits:

Louis Wolheim’s broad, flattened nose gave him a brutish look that belied his real-life background – he attended Cornell University and spoke fluent French, German, Spanish, and Yiddish.

In the pre-Code world, Leila Hyams is perhaps best known for her role in Freaks (1932), but she was also a standout in two of my favorite features from the era: Men Call It Love (1931) and Red-Headed Woman (1932). Hyams started her career as a model, retired in 1936, and was married for 50 years to agent Paul Berg, until her 1977 death.

Three of John Gilbert’s four wives were actresses: Leatrice Joy, Ina Claire, and Virginia Bruce.

The film’s cast includes Ralph Ince, an actor-turned director-turned actor again, whose brother, Thomas, was at the center of an unsolved mystery scandal in 1924, when he died shortly after attending a party aboard a yacht owned by William Randolph Hearst. Check out this excellent post to read all about the incident.

Everything’s better with Anita Page.

Two of my favorite pre-Code actresses, Anita Page and Marie Prevost, have small but memorable parts in the film. Page’s gangster’s moll is touching and naively sweet, and Prevost steals her every scene as a wise-cracking, banana-chomping good-time gal.

The film’s director was Mervyn LeRoy, who also helmed such pre-Code classics as Little Caesar (1931), Three on a Match (1932), I am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932), Golddiggers of 1933 (1933). He’s credited with changing Lana Turner’s name from Judy to Lana; introducing Ronald Reagan to future wife Nancy; and discovering Clark Gable, Loretta Young, and Robert Mitchum.

Favorite quote:

“Okay – I don’t have to tell you what to do. Only you do what I tell ya.” – Frank Tomasulo

Don’t miss Gentleman’s Fate, airing June 20th on TCM. You only owe it to yourself.

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And be sure to pop over to Speakeasy to read about the pre-Code gem Kristina is recommending for the month!

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~ by shadowsandsatin on June 7, 2017.

4 Responses to “Pre-Code Crazy: Gentleman’s Fate (1932)”

  1. Gilbert’s really not bad in films like “The Captain Hates the Sea”, “Fast Workers”, and especially “Queen Christina”. LB Mayer and alcohol ruined his career. I’ll have ti catch it when it airs on TCM. Plus, Leila Hyams!!!

  2. Caught this on TCM a couple of years ago. It grabbed the attention of the hubby who was wandering through the room. He claims a lack of interest in early 30s stuff, so it is fun to see him drawn into these films.

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