The Last Gentleman

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:

Barr lives with his friend Henry Loring (Ralph Morgan, brother of Frank “Wizard of Oz” Morgan) in a Boston mansion while estranged from his entire family:

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):

Cabot decides to summon his relatives for a memorial service for another sister, a missionary in China who may or may not be dead. He really wants to see them again before finalizing his will:

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:

Cabot rules his household with an iron fist and no one is spared his wrath especially his butler Claude (Edward Ellis), an ex-convict:

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:

Film reviewers were startled by the strong resemblance between the fabulous Edna May Oliver, seated on the right, and Mr. A:

Cabot’s spendthrift son Judd (standing), tries to have his father declared incompetent by a psychiatrist (seated to Mr. A’s right) so he can gain control of Cabot’s money:

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:

Suddenly “feeling very old,” Cabot says goodbye to Marjorie and retires to his bedroom where he later dies:

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!

Production Shots

The Barr family is momentarily quiet as its patriarch says the Grace Before Meals. The scene appears serene…

…until we take a look from the side to see the confusion of wires and lights needed to film the scene:

This production photo is scanned directly from an 8×10 inch negative. The expressions on everyone’s faces says it all:

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