Comedies about dysfunctional families are common now but George Arliss made this darkly-humored film concerning the impending death of the family patriarch in 1934. In many respects, THE LAST GENTLEMAN is quite modern in its unsentimental approach to quarreling family members, deceitful sons, and having the last laugh from beyond the grave.
Mr. A plays Cabot Barr, a flinty New Englander who bears a sufficient likeness to John D. Rockefeller, Sr. that the film opens with a special legal disclaimer stating that Cabot Barr’s resemblance to any persons living or dead is purely coincidental:
A charming family portrait, standing left to right: scheming son Judd Barr and his wife Netta (Raphaela Ottiano and Donald Meek), estranged daughter-in-law Helen (Janet Beecher), estranged sister Augusta (Edna May Oliver), companion Henry Loring; seated: disinherited adopted grandson Allan (Frank Albertson), Cabot Barr, and unacknowledged granddaughter Marjorie (Charlotte Henry):
He speaks to his daughter-in-law Helen for the first time in sixteen years after he expelled her from his home because she had a daughter instead of a son and heir. Cabot refuses to speak to his granddaughter Marjorie until she sabotages the memorial service by setting off all the alarm clocks in the house:
Granddaughter Marjorie has all the contrariness of a true Barr so Cabot takes a liking to her in hopes she will marry Allan, his sister Augusta’s adopted son, in order to continue the family name. While encouraging the romance, Cabot runs roughshod over a rubber of bridge:
Fending off Judd’s challenge depletes Cabot as he realizes that his son is not only a wastrel but a scoundrel. He conceives an idea to have the last word after his death. Frank Albertson plays Augusta’s adopted son Allan, whom Cabot hopes to marry off to Marjorie to continue the name:
Following the funeral, the family gathers at the Barr home to hear the reading of the will. They are startled to discover that Cabot himself reads his will and settles old scores in the process. How he does this was once so secret that theater managers would not permit seating during the last ten minutes of THE LAST GENTLEMAN, and even the New York Times movie critic declared that “neither wild horses nor the rack” would drag the story’s solution from his lips. But it’s great fun and provides a memorable finale!