The Bette Davis Project: The Working Man (1933)

The Working Man (1933)Synopsis:

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:

Entertainingly Capraesque depression era fable with the adorable 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, will undoubtedly depend on how much you like Arliss. I happen to love him so I thoroughly enjoyed the film.

There are, of course, things that will never happen in real life, but people back in the day didn’t much care for realism. It’s a cute fairy tale made for the consumption of ’30s 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. The Man Who Played God (1932), the actors’ first pairing, was a game-changer for Davis, and Arliss was instrumental in her casting. Davis had been in a string of disappointing productions and the seasoned veteran came to the rescue — Arliss personally requested Davis and she was forever grateful to her mentor.

I think 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. With Edward Van Sloan (Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy), Gordon Westcott, and J. Farrell MacDonald. B&W, 78 minutes, Not Rated.

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