6 March 2008 | bkoganbing
Synthetic Rubber, Who'd a Thunk It
I'm not sure what Warner Brothers thought they'd be doing with William Powell when they signed him between his stints at Paramount and MGM. Here he's in a film that probably James Cagney was offered and rejected.
Not that High Pressure doesn't have its moments. In fact it's pretty funny in a lot of spots. But I hardly think that even Powell would waste his time and flirt with fraud by trying to sell synthetic rubber made from sewage.
The film opens with George Sidney and Frank McHugh trying to locate Powell off on a Prohibition style toot. They find him dead drunk in a speakeasy and spend some time trying to sober him up. Why? Because Powell has the reputation of putting over schemes with his High Pressure sales tactics. As a motivational speaker Powell anticipates the get rich quick schemes that start in the Eighties by fifty years.
As I said, it's synthetic rubber made from sewage. George Sidney has discovered a doctor with a formula for it played by Harry Beresford. Instead of getting away as fast he could, Powell gets entranced with the idea. He embarks on a sales campaign to beat all and sells thousands of shares of stock in this company. Then he's got to produce.
All this while his girl friend Evelyn Brent is tired of the carousel and just wants out of the relationship. Powell's going to have to do plenty to salvage this situation.
Naturally this whole thing is a fraud and how the partners Powell, Sidney, and McHugh discover it is the heart of the whole movie. I wouldn't dare reveal it.
There's a very nice performance by Guy Kibbee whose function in the group is to be Powell's perennial front for the various schemes he's involved in. He's made the company figurehead president and his job is to go around and speak and present a respectable front. In that role Kibbee is the Warren Harding of the business world, an army of pompous phrases in search of an idea.
Though I liked it in spots, High Pressure is ultimately too silly to be cast as a great screen comedy. And William Powell does a good job in a role that either James Cagney or Pat O'Brien would have phoned in the performance. In fact seeing Powell in this, I'm not so sure that wasn't the reason Warner Brothers would soon sign Pat O'Brien.
Oddly enough synthetic rubber would soon be a reality forced on us by World War II. It was not made of sewage though.