A famous concert pianist, Montgomery Royle (George Arliss, Disraeli), loses his hearing after an assassination attempt on one of his guests. The bitter Royle retires, and even contemplates suicide. After he learns to read lips, Royle begins helping unsuspecting pedestrians that he watches from his apartment using a pair of binoculars.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“You will always be my idol!”
The Man Who Played God is based on the 1914 Broadway play The Silent Voice by Jules Eckert Goodman. The play has been adapted to the screen many times. First in 1914, and yet again in 1922, which also starred British actor George Arliss.
The Man Who Played God does suffer from the awkward pacing that characterizes most films of the early sound era. Director John G. Adolfi’s (The Working Man) work is a bit stiff but the story is interesting and the actors are excellent.
Despite being conceived as a star vehicle for actor Arliss, The Man Who Played God is remembered as the first film Bette Davis — she plays Arliss’s protegé — made at Warner Bros. Davis herself called it “the most important role of my career.” Some modern viewers find her performance mannered, but I thought her magnetic personality gave the film a much-needed infusion of urgency and vitality.
Davis also has a strange but undeniably powerful chemistry with Arliss. The actors became fast friends and Davis often named Arliss and her mother as the most important people in her career. Davis never forgot Arliss’s kindness, advice and mentorship — she always kept an autographed photo of the actor in her living room, the only picture of a celebrity Davis displayed in her home.
The supporting actors are good too. Louise Closser Hale (Shanghai Express) is wonderful as a widow who is secretly in love with Arliss’s character. Ivan F. Simpson (Midnight Mary) shines as Arliss’s ever faithful butler and confidant. Watch out for future movie star Ray Milland (The Lost Weekend) and actor-turned-columnist Hedda Hopper (Sunset Boulevard) in small roles.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
The Man Who Played God isn’t a classic. The film hasn’t aged well. George Arliss is great though. And Bette Davis really shines here. If you can get past its primitive filmmaking, you’ll enjoy this poignant melodrama. Remade again in 1955 as Sincerely Yours with Liberace (yes, that Liberace!) in Arliss’s old role. B&W, 80 minutes, Not Rated.