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George Arliss

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intothenitrate
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George Arliss

Postby intothenitrate » March 12th, 2013, 10:51 am

I just finished George Arliss' autobiography My Ten Years in the Studio, published in 1940. I suppose I could have posted this in our book section, but I was hoping that this discussion would have a higher profile, and include some thoughts on the actor's films as well. While Arliss may not be everybody's cup of tea, I for one am easily entranced by his use of language and his ability to hold my attention when he is on screen. The book reads like one of his loquacious characters, with its gentle hyperbole, well-mannered slights, and self-effacing humor.

Arliss' story is unique in that he came into films on top; he was a celebrated favorite in the 'serious theatre' in England and the US, treated with great deference at Warner Brothers and then at Fox, and granted authorities nearly equal to the studio executives on matters of script selection (and revision), and casting.

I got the book because I had recently watched -- and was thoroughly charmed by -- A Succcessful Calamity (1931). I also have in my collection The Green Goddess and The House of Rothschild. While I find the former a bit odd, the latter is one I've watched again and again.

Any other fans? Anyone want to take a poke at him?
"Immorality may be fun, but it isn't fun enough to take the place of one hundred percent virtue and three square meals a day."
Goodnight Basington

feaito

Re: George Arliss

Postby feaito » March 12th, 2013, 1:04 pm

Hi, intothenitrate. I had always been intrigued by Arliss' persona and acting ability, since he was one of the first actors to win an Academy Award and although quite prestigious in his day, later on his technique was considered outdated, theatrical and old-fashioned.

I have only seen two of his films:

"The Last Gentleman" (1934) in which he plays a millionaire who gathers his long-estranged relatives for a funeral service and which I enjoyed immensely. A huge discovery for me some years ago; and

"Cardinal Richelieu" (1935), an interesting historical drama in which he skillfully portrays the title character; his film all the way.

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intothenitrate
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Re: George Arliss

Postby intothenitrate » March 14th, 2013, 8:42 am

In the forward to his book, Arliss writes a riff on the expression "box office poison" which is really quite funny. He calls his book "library poison." That was written in 1940. I wonder if that's a slight allusion to the fact that his style had become out of date.

The most interesting takeaway for me was his working relationship with Darryl F. Zanuck when he was at Warner Brothers in the early days of talking pictures. Both, it seems, were wary of the pitfalls of producing "filmed plays." Zanuck was solicitous towards Arliss for his input for elevating the standards of acting and spoken dialogue, and Arliss was deferential to Zanuck's sense of filmcraft and the public taste. Arliss devotes a fair amount of space in his book to describe a regimen of rehearsals he proposed, where all the actors run through the script from beginning to end -- much like they would if they were rehearsing a play -- the exercise lasting more than a week. It cost the studio extra money, but Zanuck authorized the expenditure because of the strength of Arliss' recommendation.
"Immorality may be fun, but it isn't fun enough to take the place of one hundred percent virtue and three square meals a day."
Goodnight Basington

feaito

Re: George Arliss

Postby feaito » March 14th, 2013, 9:45 am

How interesting intothenitrate. That reveals that Arliss and Zanuck were smart men. There's not much written about Arliss. I'd like to read that book. I'm going to look for it.

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intothenitrate
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Re: George Arliss

Postby intothenitrate » March 14th, 2013, 10:24 am

The author doesn't say as much, but I think Zanuck (who was still quite young at the time) gained a lot of insight as a result of their association, that sense of "quality" that he took with him to 20th Century Fox. Arliss followed him to Fox, where he made his second group of films.

He doesn't talk much about other stars -- at least people that we know today -- but he does provide a vignette of when the young Bette Davis auditioned for him and blew him away with her precocious skill.
"Immorality may be fun, but it isn't fun enough to take the place of one hundred percent virtue and three square meals a day."
Goodnight Basington

kingrat
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Re: George Arliss

Postby kingrat » March 14th, 2013, 11:55 am

I like George Arliss, too. Disraeli is another title for you to seek out. He won his Oscar for this. You also get to see his real-life wife playing Mrs. Disraeli, and they are very charming together, like a long-time husband and wife who love each other very much. The young and blonde Joan Bennett is in this movie, too.

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intothenitrate
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Re: George Arliss

Postby intothenitrate » March 15th, 2013, 9:19 am

Thanks KR. My public library has a VHS copy of Disraeli that I've ordered be sent to my local branch. [Hopefully it's of sufficient vintage that I can duplicate it to DVD on my Panasonic.]

Florence Arliss plays a similar role in The House of Rothschild. You're right, they are charming together. It's certainly a case of art imitating life. The way Arliss talks about his life in his book, it's more like a tandem character at the center of the narrative -- he and Flo. They clearly had things worked out between themselves.
"Immorality may be fun, but it isn't fun enough to take the place of one hundred percent virtue and three square meals a day."
Goodnight Basington

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Re: George Arliss

Postby mongoII » March 15th, 2013, 10:01 am

All I know about George Arliss is that Bette Davis adored him. In later years when she spoke of him on talk shows most of the audience didn't connect.
Joseph Goodheart

feaito

Re: George Arliss

Postby feaito » April 15th, 2013, 1:03 pm

Hi, intothenitrate. Thanks to Youtube, one the WE I saw "The House of Rothschild" (1934) and I enjoyed it. It's completely George Arliss film all the way, who portrays deftly the cunning & shrewd characters of Mayer and (his son) Nathan Rotshchild. Boris Karloff plays his nemesis, C. Aubrey Smith is a perfect Duke of Wellington and Bob and Loretta Young play the love interest (Wellington's aide and Nathan's daughter). The final sequence was filmed in 3-strip Technicolor. Entertaining.

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intothenitrate
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Re: George Arliss

Postby intothenitrate » April 15th, 2013, 5:21 pm

I'm so glad you got to see that one. It's a treasured film in my collection, one that I re-visist often. Karloff is absoulutely rabid in his anti-semitism, isn't he? The film illustrates the constructive synergy bewteen Zanuck and Arliss which I read about in GA's biography.
"Immorality may be fun, but it isn't fun enough to take the place of one hundred percent virtue and three square meals a day."
Goodnight Basington

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JackFavell
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Re: George Arliss

Postby JackFavell » April 15th, 2013, 6:07 pm

I;m very happy to have discovered this thread.

I remember being just floored by Arliss when I first saw him in a movie, because I had expected an old and stodgy man from his photos and descriptions of his movies. He's anything but! I find his acting style quite modern, quiet compared to some of the emoters of that time. He underplays and I find him very interesting for that reason.

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intothenitrate
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Re: George Arliss

Postby intothenitrate » April 16th, 2013, 8:27 am

In his autobiography, he provides (IMO) definitive comparisons between stage acting and screen acting; as well as between silent film and sound film work. He understood what was required right away...while others were figuring it out by trial and error.

When he agreed to go into films, many of his theater colleagues back in England were appalled, but he embraced the new work with an open, non-judgmental mind, and was completely generous with his tremendous skill.
"Immorality may be fun, but it isn't fun enough to take the place of one hundred percent virtue and three square meals a day."
Goodnight Basington

feaito

Re: George Arliss

Postby feaito » April 16th, 2013, 10:04 am

intothenitrate wrote:I'm so glad you got to see that one. It's a treasured film in my collection, one that I re-visist often. Karloff is absoulutely rabid in his anti-semitism, isn't he? The film illustrates the constructive synergy bewteen Zanuck and Arliss which I read about in GA's biography.


Indeed, Karloff's Count hatred of jews is absolutely extreme. The film is very enjoyable but facts were manipulated to fit the story. No wonder Arliss followed Zanuck to 20th Century Pictures.

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JackFavell
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Re: George Arliss

Postby JackFavell » April 17th, 2013, 11:32 am

I think that's exactly what I always feel from Arliss, you put it so well - that underneath his exterior is a young, open and non-judgmental mind. I really really like that.


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