Your Blogmeister is pleased – make that proud – to announce the fourth volume in our George Arliss Series:
This time we reconstruct the once-acclaimed but now lost silent screen version of DISRAELI of 1921. We spent over two decades collecting photographs and other images to document this first film version of George Arliss’s most successful play. Additional materials include the complete souvenir theater program of 1912, a set of eight original lobby cards from the 1929 sound version of DISRAELI in restored color, and a discussion of Mr. A’s 1938 live radio broadcast of the play with links to enable readers to hear this radio program exactly as it was broadcast live over CBS on January 17, 1938. There is also a “bonus” appendix of George Arliss in 3-D photographs from a variety of his films.
Louise Huff plays Clarissa in the 1921 version
Among film buffs there is probably no other type of movie that captures the imagination as much as a “lost” film. That is, a film where no copies are known to exist. Perhaps the most famous lost American silent film is the Lon Chaney Sr. opus, LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927). But fans of the silent screen – and thanks to DVDs and streaming video their numbers are increasing daily – can tell you of many other elusive treasures. There’s a special cachet that grips the imagination and is stoked by surviving photos of scenes from a lost film. Reading the original film reviews only makes the sense of the unobtainable that much keener.
Imagine welcoming in the New Year – in this case 1922 – with Mr. A in person!
The title card (1 of 8) in the set of lobby cards from the 1929 talkie version.
I must confess that after completing this photo reconstruction, I had a strong impression that I had actually watched the 1921 film itself. Perhaps this is a presentiment that a print of this DISRAELI will in fact be found. Some fragments are held at the Eastman House of Photography in Rochester, NY, and apparently a film archive in Moscow, Russia, holds some material as well. Until we get very lucky (if ever), this fourth volume in our George Arliss series will be the only record of this classic film.
George Arliss received the Best Actor Academy Award for his 1929 film, DISRAELI, where he portrayed the legendary British prime minister of the 1870s. An early talkie, this story is surprisingly topical in that it focuses on Disraeli’s quest to purchase the Suez Canal for Britain. Opposed by other politicians and sabotaged by spies from Russia, the wily prime minister contrives to buy the Canal only to discover he lacks the money to pay for it! How’s George Arliss going to get out of this one? Tune in and see!
“Disraeli (1929)“is playing on TCM on Fri, February 01, 2013 07:30 AM est.
Doris Lloyd plays the charming socialite Mrs. Travers, who is actually a Russian spy:
Ivan Simpson plays financier Hugh Myers who promises to provide funding for the Canal purchase, but then goes bankrupt:
Ivan Simpson was also a sculptor as he proves between filming scenes:
The cover of the souvenir program from 1929:
A 19 year-old Joan Bennett with Mr. A:
Joan Bennett graciously provided your blogmeister with a few reminiscences of making DISRAELI:
Florence Arliss, wife of Mr. A, played the wife of Disraeli, known as Lady Beaconsfield:
I doubt that there is another dramatic work, excepting Shakespeare’s plays, that has been translated into so many different mediums in the performing arts as DISRAELI. First debuting as a play in 1911, it was turned into that most peculiar relative of the spoken stage – a silent film, in 1921. At the end of that decade this vehicle was reinvented as an Academy Award-winning “talking picture.” Nearly a decade later, the play-cum-silent film-cum-talkie was turned into an hour-long radio broadcast heard around the world via the CBS network and shortwave in 1938. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of DISRAELI is that ALL of its various incarnations starred the same actor – George Arliss.
A Souvenir Program from the 1911-12 season
The play was written specifically for Mr. A by the then-famous playwright Louis N. (for Napoleon) Parker. There was one problem – Parker had never seen Arliss perform on the stage. Then Parker quit saying that a play about Benjamin Disraeli, the British prime minister of the 1870s, couldn’t be written. Mr. A convinced Parker it could be written and explained how. Parker completed his play due largely to its star’s role as midwife.
The final scene where Disraeli receives a telegram he fears will tell him of his wife’s death: Mr. A with Marguerite St. John, the first actress to play Lady Beaconsfield (Mrs. Disraeli) on the stage.
Mr. A starred in DISRAELI for five consecutive years, from 1911 to 1915, then revived it thereafter. Here is the cast for a 1917 revival – note that Florence Arliss plays Lady Beaconsfield. Also, note that the ingenue role of Lady Clarissa is played by the talented, ill-fated Jeanne Eagels:
The 1921 silent film is now lost but a number of stills have survived….
No longer stagebound, the garden party scene was filmed outdoors:
A rare glass slide advertising the silent film in theaters:
Margaret Dale plays the spy, Mrs. Travers. Dale had played the role continuously since 1911 and never missed a performance, not even in this film version.
Florence Arliss as Lady Beaconsfield tries to console her husband: he has just written a bad check – to buy the Suez Canal!
Warner Bros. persuaded Mr. A to make the play into one of the first full-length talking pictures. He did and won the Best Actor Academy Award:
A souvenir program for the 1929 film
Here’s a detail from the Warner pressbook telling theater owners how to sell the movie to their patrons:
Exteriors were filmed at the old Busch Gardens during the summer of 1929 by ace cinematographer Lee Garmes. This scene looks pretty but Mr. A recalled that it was hot as ….blazes.
The romantic young couple, Lady Clarissa and Lord Deeford, were played by Joan Bennett and Anthony Bushell:
The 1929 film cast and crew, from the original program:
The ever-reliable Ivan Simpson plays financier Hugh Myers, a fictional character based on the real-life Lionel Rothschild who financed Disraeli’s purchase of the Suez Canal:
A flyer highlighting scenes from DISRAELI:
Outtakes – not every scene made it into the final production:
Disraeli and Gladstone exchange sharply divided political views in the House of Commons – but not onscreen.
Mrs. Travers meets Disraeli – but not onscreen. Doris Lloyd plays the spy, the one time that Margaret Dale missed a performance!
We only glimpse the Prime Minister working in his garden and never to this extent!
Back to the movie:
Joan Bennett at the beginning of her very successful career. When I showed DISRAELI in college in 1970, I had the idea to write a thesis and wrote to Ms. Bennett to ask what Mr. A was like to work with. Here is her reply:
Now about that bad check for the Suez Canal: Congress didn’t invent “stop gap spending.” Here the Prime Minister threatens to ruin the Bank of England if its president, stuffy Lord Probert (David Torrence), doesn’t cover the check:
Probert signs to save the Bank but is dismayed that Disraeli has such power.
In the dramatic payoff, Disraeli confides that as Prime Minister he has no such power, “but he doesn’t know that.”
Here is Mr. and Mrs. A in the final scene involving the telegram again:
On January 17, 1938, George Arliss made his dramatic radio debut on the CBS network with DISRAELI. This live broadcast on the Lux Radio Theater was heard all over the world and brought to the microphone much of the cast of the 1929 film version including Florence Arliss, Ivan Simpson, Doris Lloyd, and David Torrence. Mr. A was nearly 70 years old and noted that more people heard this one broadcast than all the audiences combined from his years performing in the play, the silent film, and the talkie:
Here’s the photo’s original press caption:
Want to hear this broadcast from long ago? It is right at your fingertips so just click below: