Warner Archive's DVD release of the 1933 George Arliss/Bette Davis comedy "The Working Man" is the most recent example of Archive making a "where have you been all my life" film available to cinephiles. More amazingly, at least 95 percent of the dialog and scenes could be recreated and released on the big screen today. Only a few Prohibition-related references would need to hit the editing room floor.
The underlying plot is that Arliss plays shoe mogul John Reeves, who has had a long-standing civilized competition with a rival shoe company owned by the man who married the love of Reeves' life. The middle-aged Reeves is still sharp but is not well respected by his nephew who Reeves has brought into the business.
The events early in the film include Reeves learning of the death of his rival, whose wife had previously passed away, and Reeves having a chance encounter with said rival's bon vivant "adult" offspring while on vacation. Davis does an awesome job playing the hubba hubba quasi level-headed daughter Jenny; less well-known actor Theodore Newton does just as well as the more immature and reckless son Tommy.
The following preview clip, courtesy of YouTube, depicts the truly life-changing meeting described above. It also shows why Davis became such a star and makes one wonder why Newton's career never really took off.
Reeves becoming more involved in the rival business takes many amusing twists, many of which involve a sense of attending his own funeral in that he is present when people at that company refer to aspect of Reeves' business.
The live theater aspect of this film that is typical of movies of the day add to the enjoyment of the well-written tale and excellent portrayal of that story. The literally last-second developments following a perfectly satisfactory ending also adds to the theatrical feel of this movie.
"Man" is also terrific because each scene is well staged, and the director uses clever techniques. A slow flipping of business ledger sheets, rather than ripping calendar pages off the wall or a clock rapidly advancing, marks the passing of time. Further, having two doors to offices and other rooms is well utilized.
In this age in which looks or general personas often trump skill regarding casting decisions, it is additionally nice to see performers actually act. After a while, one forgets that he or she is watching Bette Davis until a scene evokes thoughts of the lyric "all the boys think she's a spy" from the song "Bette Davis Eyes."
Additionally, both academic studies and less-academic reality shows demonstrate that the story of "Man" is still incredibly relevant by teaching us that family businesses often do not last beyond the third generation because the children and/or grandchildren of a company's founder typically are not adequately hungry and/or ambitious to make the effort that running a successful enterprise requires.
The bottom line regarding "Man" is that it shows how to succeed in the film business by really trying. It is a good choice for satisfying a craving for a classic film, and one can only hope for a long overdue remake.
Anyone with questions regarding "Man" is welcome to email me; I can also be found on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.