Need help figuring out what to watch this week on Warner Archive Instant? The Black Maria has you covered. Each week, we pick a small handful of titles from the Warner Archive Instant catalog: some hidden gems, others well-known and beloved classics. All deserving of a look or two (or five).
This week we’ve got a young and carefree Bette Davis as a spoiled heiress, Levar Burton as a deaf-mute accused of murder, and Edward G. Robinson as a monk. Only in Hollywood, dear friends.
Here are the must-watch picks from Warner Archive Instant for the week of 09.17.14.
The Working Man (1933)
George Arliss shines in this delightfully charming Warner Bros comedy. Arliss is the aging, quick-witted CEO of a shoe company, whose life is turned upside down when his arch-rival suddenly dies. The rivalry stretches back to Arliss’ youth, when the two men were in love with the same woman. Arliss lost out, and never quite recovered. But in the wake of his rivals’ death, Arliss’ life is turned upside down when he realizes that the children of the woman he once loved are in trouble. The brother and sister (Tommy Newton and a very young and spunky Bette Davis) are spoiled rotten brats, leading a debauched lifestyle off their father’s empire– which is in shaky territory as it is now being managed by a first class cad. Arliss’ sentiment overcomes him, and hiding his true identity as their father’s former rival, he applies to be their new trustee. At first the brother and sister are delighted, assuming that they’ll have carte blanche to do as they please. But Arliss soon fixes that, and with a firm hand leads them onto the straight and narrow, becoming the father figure they need. The Working Man is a lovely, heartwarming film, with Arliss as the clever Fairy Godfather who is never less than ten steps ahead of the game. A definite must-watch.
Dummy (1979) – Levar Burton, Brian Dennehy, Paul Sorvino
LeVar Burton is Donald Lang: an African American deaf-mute who is accused of the brutal murder of a prostitute. His case is purely circumstantial, but that doesn’t shake the fact that, due to his inability to communicate, he’s thrown in jail and bounces in and out of mental institutions for five years. The man who sees the gross injustice being leveled at the man is Paul Sorvino: a fiery attorney who takes on the case. This gifted orator has one very important connection to the accused Burton: he is deaf. (The fire and fortitude of Sorvino’s character foreshadow the inimitable Marlee Matlin’s Emmy award-winning turn in the 90s TV series Reasonable Doubts.) The story works as a modern day Miracle Worker, with Sorvino in the role of the Teacher … only Burton’s Lang never achieves Helen Keller’s breakthrough. Dummy is an interesting, but clunky, courtroom drama that is made memorable only by the virtue of thew two leads. Sorvino is the undisputed star of this film: a commanding presence and thoroughly believable as the deaf attorney who takes on the case as a human rights issue. The same brand of silent outrage that infused Burton’s turn as Kunte Kinte in Alex Haley’s Roots, is at play here– but instead of being imprisoned by the institution of slavery, he is imprisoned by the gross injustices of the legal system. Except, as the film closes, one question remains: is he innocent? You be the judge.
Brother Orchid (1940)
“I’m gonna get what I was born to have. Class.” This thoroughly enjoyable romp is a spoof of the gangster flick that Warner Bros invented– starring the man who helped to define it, Edward G. Robinson. Racketeer Johnny Sarto (Robinson) wants out of his game to taste a bit of the good life– and he does. Albeit unsuccessfully. But his former right-hand man (Humphrey Bogart) is less than happy when Robinson comes back, five years later, wanting back in having gone bankrupt in search of that elusive “class”. Robinson’s main squeeze, a delicious Ann Sothern, intends to help him out, but ends up gumming up the works and, when Bogart tries to kill him, Robinson believes that Sothern was in on a frame-up. On the lam, the wounded Robinson is taken in by the brothers of a Monastery (Donald Crisp is the Father Superior) where he takes shelter within their monastery. They nurse his health, and his soul, with Robinson becoming “Brother Orchid”. When he learns from a newspaper that Sothern is engaged to a rancher (Ralph Bellamy), Robinson leaves the monastery to win back the woman he loves. It’s an curious film to be sure, and anyone expecting a Robinson/Bogart flick will be disappointed: Bogart, not yet far a star in his own right (that would happen with High Sierra the following year) is merely a sideline. Make no mistake, this film belongs entirely to Robinson. Which, of course, is always a good thing.