The Sunday Intertitle: An Old Spanish Costume Drama

Alexander D’Arcy’s well-known thing is THE AWFUL TRUTH, where he’s really excellent as the French poppinjay caught up in farcical misunderstandings with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. His timing is superb. So I used to wonder whatever happened to him, why he wasn’t used more often and more prominently, especially as he’s so ridiculously handsome, if you like that kind of thing. Cheekbones you could open bottles with.

But now he’s turning up in everything — there he was in TOPPER TAKES A TRIP, watched for Screwball Week. He seemed somewhat amuck, like he wasn’t getting any direction from Norman Z. McLeod and didn’t know what he was doing. A certain special logic is important in fantasy films, and this one just didn’t have it, at any level. And then it seems I’ve seen him numerous times over the years, without tumbling to it. He got to be in a Kazan, but it was MAN ON A TIGHTROPE, maybe Kazan’s worst film (“Look, I’m not a commie!”) and he’s in LA KERMESSE HEROIQUE and A NOUS LA LIBERTE and FIFTH AVENUE GIRL and HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE and THE ST VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE. And I have no memory of noticing him in any of those. THE PRISONER OF ZENDA is an exception, because I seem to remember noticing him, but I don’t remember what the experience was actually like.

Here he is in THE ROMANCE OF SEVILLE, co-scripted by Alma Reville, Mrs. Hitchcock, a 1929 soundie (music by Hubert Bath who scored BLACKMAIL) from British International Pictures. Lots of attractive location filming in Spain, courtesy of Claude Friese-Green.

The plot starts off on conventional lines, with Alexandre, as he’s credited, meeting his betrothed for the first time (arranged marriage, ordained since the cradle) and discovering she loves another. But soon this hackneyed plot crashes into another, as he rescues a maiden from burglars. Two hackneyed plots colliding can set up some interesting, unpredictable debris, just like with locomotives. B.I.P. seem to be trying to set D’Arcy up as their own Fairbanks, with a lot of leaping off balustrades and scaling balconies and the like. Then sound came in, catching the UK with its pants down (I suspect this one’s been hastily sonorized, so the frame-rate  in the location scenes is all herky-jerky), and they evidently dismissed him as too French. D’Arcy hit Hollywood, and seems to have made a living (and achieved immortality with his short appearance in AWFUL TRUTH).

The movie gets by without Spaniards, largely. Suave villain Esteban is played by Cecil Barry of Putney. Eugenie Amami, the betrothed, gets her exotic beauty from Wallasey in Cheshire.

Arline Lord wrote the story, and Alma is credited with scenario — I’m assuming she broke it down into scenes and maybe even shots. Bits of suspense and comedy business may be down to her, as when D’Arcy meets a love rival and reaches into his jacket — only to pull out a cigarette case and offer the chap a smoke with a dazzling smile. Hitchcockian, one might say, as long as one meant Mrs. Hitchcockian.

The movie is out on DVD from Network.




7 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: An Old Spanish Costume Drama”

  1. He’s marvelous in Sam Fuller’s “Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street”

  2. Oh, I missed that one. I noticed that he worked into the seventies, glad he had some worthwhile gigs then.

  3. bensondonald Says:

    Historical note: Once upon a time, “love-making” referred to fully-clothed romantic preliminaries. I stumbled across that somewhere, and recalled a line in a Victorian novel where the serious and gallant narrator comments that as a married man, he’d left his love-making days far behind.

  4. Ha. It still seems a slightly embarrassing thing for one’s mother to remark in front of one and one’s intended. “Mo-om!”

    It’s always a disconcerting line in old movies: “Are you making love to me?” It seems to invite a reply like “Can’t you tell?”

  5. chris schneider Says:

    He also has a role in MAN ON A TIGHTROPE, where he plays a lion-tamer who declares that his curse is his good looks.

  6. chris schneider Says:

    Oops. Just noticed your allusion, above, to TIGHTROPE, which I disagree with (of course). Do feel free to delete at Will.

  7. I’m unsure if Man on a Tightrope really is his worst. The man himself swore Sea of Grass was unendurable.

    But this is very timely, as D’Arcy just turned up in our last night’s viewing, The St Valentine’s Day Massacre, of all things.

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