For my first installment of the Carole Lombard Filmography Project, I will be profiling Man of the World (1931) the first film Lombard made with good friend and future husband William Powell. The movie was produced by Universal, and released in March of 1931.
The focus of the story is on a racketeer blackmailer, Michael Trevor (formerly Jimmy Powers, played by William Powell) who makes a living off the printing of a scandal sheet in Paris, blackmailing Americans out of thousands of dollars to keep their secret Parisian rendezvous out of the tabloids. His attention at the start of the film is on a Pennsylvania coal baron by the name of Harold Taylor (Guy Kibbee) whom he is attempting to blackmail for an alleged rendezvous with a blonde. Posing as a novelist, Trevor approaches Taylor urging him to prosecute the editor of a scandal sheet that is about to print the story. Having procured the money, he meets Mary, Taylor’s niece (Carole Lombard), who is in Paris with her fiancé in whom she is disinterested. Shortly thereafter, Trevor and Mary begin to fall in love, without Mary knowing Trevor’s true identity. Their love grows, and Trevor finally proposes to Mary, promising to reform when they marry. She accepts, and they are engaged.
Trevor also has a girlfriend, Irene, who immediately flies into a jealous rage when she hears what has happened. She is convinced that he will never reform, and for Mary to be married to an ex-con would be a bad situation for all involved. To show Mary his true colors, he goes to her with a scandalous story and demands $10,000 for it. Mary slaps him, but provides him with the money.
Meanwhile, Irene has notified the police, and Trevor is asked to leave the country. The movie ends on a rather unsatisfying note–as Irene and Trevor get back together, and Mary and her unloved fiancé stay together.
The movie is playing it safe here–although the stringent rules of the Production Code of 1934 were 3 years away from enforcement, the initial Production Code of 1930 was already in place, and it seems that this movie is really trying to stay in safe territory in terms of the relationships and how they evolve. Though it makes for a very disappointing ending, it’s not hard to imagine that the producers were relegated to do this to be in compliance with the code’s mandate that adultery “must not be explicitly treated, or justified, or presented attractively (Motion Picture Production Code of 1930, Section II, Article 1),”
I had to watch this movie twice to get even the basic plot points. It moves slowly, the dialogue has little pitch or inflection, and the plot is complex. The characters are difficult to keep track of, and the fact that Michael Trevor’s original name was Jimmy Powers makes it even the more complicated, as he is called by both names throughout the movie. The chemistry between Powell and Lombard, however, is palpable–it is no surprise that they were married just a few months later.
One thing that does stick out for me in this movie is the lovely fashion. In unique dresses and suits designed by Eugene Joseff, Lombard’s unique features are accentuated, and it is clear that they were trying to emulate the Parisian fashions of the day. It works very well, and I think this was the high point of the movie.
The movie is available on the Carole Lombard Glamour Collection, along with several other Lombard essentials. Thanks for reading!