Pre-Code Crazy: Man of the World (1931)

Now that another Noirvember celebration is behind us, it’s time to return to Pre-Code Crazy, where I join my pal Kristina, over at Speakeasy, in recommending a pre-Code feature that’s airing on TCM during the month. My pick for December is Man of the World (1931), a film that I’d never heard of until a year or so ago, which surprised me, because it stars two of my favorite performers, William Powell and Carole Lombard.

Powell plays Michael Trevor, an American living in Paris who, in the film’s first scene encounters a man who insists he’s a former reporter from the States named Jimmy Powers. Although Trevor denies that he’s Powers, and produces identification to back up his claim, it turns out that the man was right. Powers-turned-Trevor now makes his living as a refined con-man; he produces a scandal sheet that reports on the misdeeds of visiting Americans, then blackmails them to suppress the damaging information. He’s assisted in this enterprise by his partners Fred (George Chandler) and Irene (Wynne Gibson), who previously had an affair with Trevor and is still toting around a pretty hefty torch.

Trevor, Mary, and Uncle Harry.

We first see Trevor in action when he visits Pennsylvania native Harry Taylor (Guy Kibbee), whose recent dalliance with a local blonde has led to his potential exposure in the underground paper. Presenting himself as an intermediary, Trevor tells him that he can speak to the publisher on Taylor’s behalf and give the publisher $2,000 from Taylor to ensure that the item isn’t printed. Just as Trevor is leaving with his ill-gotten gains, he literally bumps into Taylor’s niece, Mary (Lombard), and for the first time we see Trevor thrown for a loop. He seems to be unable to take his eyes off Mary – she practically takes his breath away, like he’s seen an angel in human form.

When Taylor seeks a restaurant recommendation for Mary and her would-be fiancée, Frank (Lawrence Gray), Trevor endorses a favorite establishment, then shows up that night himself. When he arrives, we get a further glimpse into his character, as he surveys the patrons and gets the lowdown on the night’s action from the maître d’. One of the couples consists of a known local swindler, and the wealthy – and tipsy – American woman he’s romancing. We learn that Trevor operates according to a strict code of ethics that frowns on fleecing the fairer sex. To put the kibosh on the scenario he sees unfolding, he writes an anonymous note to the gigolo, strongly suggesting that he excuse himself from the premises.

The soup is fair, but Mary only has eyes for Michael.

A series of circumstances leads to Trevor sitting with Mary and Frank, taking them to a small local bistro, then squiring Mary around Paris the following day, after Frank travels to London for business. In whirlwind fashion, one thing leads to another, and Mary and Trevor fall in love. But what does their future hold? What will happen if Mary learns how Trevor makes a living? Will Irene’s red-hot jealousy provide an obstacle? And what about Frank?

For the answer to these and other burning questions, tune in to TCM on December 9th – you only owe it to yourself. And in the meantime, treat yourself to some trivia tidbits about this interesting little pre-Code.

The screenplay for the film was written by Herman Mankiewicz, whose many credits include co-writing Citizen Kane (1941), for which he won an Oscar, as well as Dinner at Eight (1933), The Pride of the Yankees (1942), and The Enchanted Cottage (1945). Mankiewicz is the grandfather of TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz and the brother of producer/director/writer Joseph Mankiewicz.

The Strange Case of Clara Deane, starring Wynne Gibson — coming soon to a blog near you.

Like this film, I only discovered Wynne Gibson – who played Trevor’s green-eyed ex-lover – during the past year, in a film called The Strange Case of Clara Deane (which I’ll be covering on this blog in the coming months). She enjoyed her heyday during the pre-Code era, with featured roles in films like Children of Pleasure (1930), City Streets (1931), and Ladies of the Big House (1931).

The film’s director, Richard Wallace, was one of the founding members of the Directors Guild of America. During his career, he directed a number of stars, from Clara Bow to John Wayne; his biggest feature was probably Bombadier (1943), a war film starring Randolph Scott and Pat O’Brien.

William Powell and Carole Lombard met in 1930 on the set of Man of the World and married the following year. They divorced two years later, in August 1933, but reportedly remained friends.

Catch Man of the World on TCM on December 9th – it’s a treat for William Powell fans and offers an intriguing look at Carole Lombard near the start of her career. And it features an ending that, frankly, caught me completely off-guard. All things considered, it’s definitely worth your time. I hope you’ll check it out and let me know what you think – and be sure to pop over to Speakeasy to see what pre-Code gem Kristina is recommending for this month!

~ by shadowsandsatin on December 3, 2021.

2 Responses to “Pre-Code Crazy: Man of the World (1931)”

  1. I haven’t seen this! and I’m sold, I love this whole concept and setup, and I imagine Powell does a good job as a troubled rascal. We kind of matched up, same leading man this month 🙂

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