Disraeli (1929)

ALFRED E. GREEN

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.  USA, 1929.  .  Screenplay by , based on the play by and the titles by .  Cinematography by .  Music by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  Academy Awards 1929/1930.

earned an Academy Award for Best Actor as the famed British Prime Minister whose heroic victory over the purchase of the Suez Canal is the plot foundation of this melodramatic biopic.  Arliss made a career of playing Great Men of History on stage and on film, and while this early talkie creaks like the worst of them, his years of experience clearly show in a performance that is much smoother and assured than anyone around him.  The film itself is stagy and awkward, like most early talkies shot in a manner that allows audiences to see live theatre at cut-rate prices, with all action pointed in the same direction and even the sets looking like they have been designed to fit beneath a giant proscenium.  Because dramatists know that political narratives are dull, the action is spiffed up by having Disraeli oversee the romance of a hot young couple, while the intrigue of Russian spies is wrought out in the form of a tricky Victorian lady.  Of course the whole thing is nonsense, but it really is amazing how genuine and natural Arliss manages to be at key moments, and how his chemistry with his real-life wife , doing fine work as his Lady Beaconsfield, creates a genuine sense of affection and poignancy that anchors the rest of the film.

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