The Bette Davis Project: The Working Man (1933)

The Working Man (1933)


Shoe manufacturer John Reeves (George Arliss, Disraeli) is a workaholic who strives for perfection. However, his nephew Benjamin Burnett (Hardie Albright, Angel on My Shoulder) thinks that old Reeves is past his prime. Later, while vacationing on the Maine coast, Reeves comes across the children (Bette Davis and Theodore Newton) of an old love/business rival. He pretends to be unemployed, and convinces the two youngsters to allow him to run their company. Reeves goes head to head with his own shoe company in hopes to teach everybody a much-needed lesson about life.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Entertaining Capraesque Depression-era fable with the adorable George Arliss enthusiastically dominating the narrative — he’s the whole show.

I can quip about a thing or two, but Arliss alone makes it watchable. Granted, the actor is an acquired taste — he’s the kind of actor that you either love or hate — so how you feel about The Working Man, directed by John G. Adolfi (The Millionaire), will undoubtedly depend on how much you like/dislike Arliss. I happen to love him so I thoroughly enjoyed the film.

The Working Man is a cute fairy tale made for the consumption of 1930s audience thus it is a valuable time capsule. The Working Man spoke directly to a society struggling to survive amid tough economical times. The film praises work ethics and the common man, and looks down on the lazy and greedy. And it makes its points charmingly and entertainingly.

It’s also fun to see Arliss and Davis together again. Arliss’s The Man Who Played God (1932) had been a game-changer for Davis — the film won her a long-term contract with Warner Bros. Arliss came to her rescue again. Davis had been in a string of disappointing productions and the seasoned veteran personally requested Davis.

The Working Man is the better of the two films they made together. Davis looks more confident in front of the camera the second time around. Arliss himself noticed the improvement and told Davis so, and she was happy that he was pleased with her work — it’s pretty obvious that they enjoyed their company.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

The Working Man is a delightfully little film, a must-see for fans of Arliss and/or Davis. With Edward Van Sloan (Dracula), Gordon Westcott (Fashions of 1934), and J. Farrell MacDonald (My Darling Clementine). B&W, 78 minutes, Not Rated.


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