The Manipulator

A really good double feature — THE MIND READER and THE DARK HORSE.

The former has Warren William as mentalist, starting as a failed sideshow hustler and discovering the psychic gag as a way to hustle at a higher level. Very snazzy direction from Roy Del Ruth with a lot of Dutch tilts and some sweeping crane shots. William as maybe the worst scoundrel of his professional career, since his act actually ruins lives and kills people, and he reforms once then shamelessly backslides. Put it this way, he’s so bad, the movie can’t exonerate him at the end, and he has to go to prison.

Allen Jenkins’ last line is wonderfully bathetic: “Gee, boss, it seems a shame you’re going away just when beer’s coming back.”

Good little role for Clarence Muse: as always, he deserves more. Unrewarding sappy gf part for Constance Cummings, a brief sighting of the bewitching Ruthelma Stevens, wheeled on to glower accusingly before the elevator shaft beckons.

THE DARK HORSE (dir: Alfred E Green) is a key work in the Warner precode mission to FULLY DOCUMENT AMERICA: it’s about the biggest racket of them all, politics, and shows how a brainless candidate (Guy Kibbee in his apotheosis, above) gets more or less accidentally nominated and how the machine gets behind him to transform a rustic chump into something the electorate can be fooled into voting for. In charge of that transformation: Warren William, of course.

Arguably there’s too much about WW’s love life, which is of course amusing but not 100% central to the political issues. Actually, issues are not discussed (the candidate has no platform), but the one big issue — the failure of American politics to produce worthy politicians, the packaging, instead, of chumps — kind of fades in the second half. Bette Davis is the romantic interest but she must have had an envious eye on the bad girl part, which Vivienne Osborne triumphs in. I don’t know why she wasn’t bigger.

No Jenkins in this one, but it has Frank McHugh so that’s fine: the schmoe quotient is filled.

Asides from WW, the hidden connection seems to be screenwriter Wilson Mizner, who was working himself to death at Warners from 32-33. His name is wonderfully seedy: I somehow picture him typing in fingerless gloves and a raincoat.

8 Responses to “The Manipulator”

  1. Yes! If my discovery of WW got you to discover WW I’m glad. He needed rediscovery in the precode period,

  2. I’m not sure, I think I got somewhat into him just before I started blogging, but my appreciation has grown over time so you very possibly played a part in it.

  3. The sheer awfulness of the political manipluation in The Dark Horse is truly marvellous and very precient.

  4. There’s even more to Mizner than I thought: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilson_Mizner

  5. that has got to be the most WILD wiki entry ever… makie a film of his life NOW!!! oh and The Merry Wives of Reno sounds interesting.

  6. charles W. Callahan Says:

    I’m thrilled Warren William has a following. He’s tops!

  7. Simon Kane Says:

    It’s been quite a day for wild wiki recommendations. My friend Joel took me to the entry of Bobby “Peter Pan” Driscoll. I’d had no idea.

  8. Oh God, that’s a terrible story.

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