31 October 2009 | gerrythree
Great Movie Making From Warner Brothers
TCM aired The Match King yesterday morning at 3:00 AM, shown as one of the last movies in its Thursday night series of October movies from the Great Depression. Its previous showing on TCM, as I recall, was in 2005 as one of the favorite movies of guest programmer Stephen Sondheim. The Match King demonstrates a mastery of editing that puts this movie in a class of its own, with the final montage of mini-scenes decades ahead of its time.
In The Racing Form, the capsule description for a horse winning a race by pulling away from the others at race's end is "driving." That describes this movie, which moves at a headlong pace throughout, as it describes the career of crooked businessman Paul Kroll, a fictional version of Ivar Krueger, the real-life match king, who just died in 1932. The same year The Match King was rushed into production at Warner Bros., Hal Wallis the uncredited supervisor, Darryl Zanuck the studio production chief doing his usual job of making movies ripped from the newspaper headline pages of the time.
At the movie's end, Kroll's partners are at a meeting where they now realize they all face economic ruin as Kroll's business empire is about to collapse. Their first though is, sell all their shares before the public finds out. The cynicism in this scene is a capper for what went on before, as Kroll sells down the river almost everyone he has dealings with, including going as far as murder and getting one problem person locked up for life in an insane asylum to shut him up for good. This movie shows the influence of 1932, the bottom year of the Depression, when many people though all businessmen were thieves and crooks who wrecked the world's economy. The more things change, the more. . .
Even with all the technical mastery available now to Hollywood filmmakers now, no studio can come close to the greatness of The Match King, made only two years after Warner Bros. scrapped its Vitaphone sound discs to switch to sound on film cameras. The Match King shows there is something to be said for a movie studio run like Warner Bros., a real slave labor operation where quitting time was not 5 or 6 PM, but when the day's scheduled work was done, which could be 2:00 AM the following morning. A studio where the words "income security" did not exist, as Jack Warner strove to cut everyone's salary, actors' employment contracts be damned (with no worry for craft union contracts, there were none then in non-union Hollywood).
There was a downside to Jack Warners' cheapness. One of the hardest working actors on the Warners lot was Warren William, but apparently when his contract was up in 1936, he went off the Warner Bros. studio payroll. William joined a parade of other acting talent in the repertory company that Zanuck created when he was in charge of hiring actors before he quit in 1933. Looking back now, it seems incredible that the Warner Bros. dream factory could make one high quality movie after another in 1932, usually with a 3 week production schedule (6 day work weeks with no overtime pay) on a budget of around $150,000.
In this year of 2009, as the financial world is again enmeshed in worldwide economic downturn caused by thieves in business suits, thieves now who sold near worthless derivatives to investors on a massive scale, Hollywood turns out hit movies dealing with robots and teenage vampires. A far cry from 1932, cinema wise. There are no movies in fast production now involving the Madoff Ponzi scheme, the strange death of Madoff investor Jeffrey Picower or the subprime mortgage meltdown. The big corporations that run the Hollywood studios are not about to produce movies that remind moviegoers about the real life wreckage of the U.S. economy. Ripping movies from current headlines is not done anymore, especially making grim movies like The Match King. That is just too bad for moviegoers. Good thing there is TCM to finally show The Match King again, a movie about a real world in 1932 that does not seem that far away today.