THIS TITLE IS representative of those that were originally released to Television around, say circa 1955. As such, it was viewed in our household and introduced this writer to the real life and legendary man of America's Gilded Age, James Buchanan "Diamond Jim" Brady. Our folks were familiar with Mr. Edward Arnold's portrayal; as they had seen it at a local Movie House right here in Chicago; being the old Emmett Theatre on Wentworth Avenue.
SO THE YEARS they have passed and Ma & Dad have gone to their Eternal Rewards; having probably met up with the Real Diamond Jim & Lillian Russell. That leaves us here in the position of being "the Older Generation"; relating to the "Kids" of seeing this years ago.*
WATCHING IT THE other night was seemingly a new experience; for very little remained in the recall and replay portion of the old memory cells.
FIRST OF ALL, it held up well. It is as lavish a production as we remember; doing a fine job of recreating the NYC of the 1890's. It's obvious that no expense was spared in costuming, sets, trains, street-cars, carriages, etc. The illusion of being Manhattan Island was completed with the creation of a constant sense of overcrowding; being a sort of cinematic claustrophobia of the first order.
THE CASTING WAS excellent what with Edward Arnold heading up a fine troupe of performers with what is essentially his finest and most sympathetic characterization in his film career; ranking right next to his Barney Glasgaw in COME AND GET IT (Howard Productions presents/Samuel Goldwyn Company/United Artists,1936). His full range of interpretive powers and emotions are clearly in evidence.
THE INCLUSION of such luminaries of the 1930's "Talkies" included lovely and somewhat enigmatic Jean Arthur; who brought her lovely, screechy-toned voice to two different look-alike ladies in Diamond Jim's love life. She first appears as the young lady,Emma,who marries another man than he and later as Jane Matthews, who also gets away. Binnie Barnes makes a beautiful Lillian Russell, a protégé of his; who goes from saloon singer to top box office attraction under his tutelage.
A VERY YOUNG and handsome & dashing Ceasar Romero as Jerry Richardson ads a character who is both friend and rival to the great Brady's love affairs, with Ceasar winning out in the end; although we won't say who he winds up with.
THE STORY STARTS off at a fast pace and wastes no time in moving the narration along. We go from a victory parade in 1856 for President Elect James Buchanan; whose name gave Diamond Jim his Given and Middle Names. We move to Brady as a young baggage & cartage clerk/handler with some big ideas and an even bigger dose of ambition. He is traced in a rise to top salesman and influence peddler; which leads to NYC & Wall Street.
THE SUPER VORACIOUS "Diamond Jim" Brady appetite is portrayed and celebrated as being as super-human; which, of course, really was at least as huge and legendary as it is shown on the screen. The scene in which Diamond Jim engages the waiter in the fancy, Broadway restaurant and orders 7 or 8 meat items on the menu as his dinner order; adding pheasant and a plate of oysters (or something like that). He tells the waiter to remember dessert. When asked what he would drink, he replies that it would be his usual pitcher of fresh orange juice.**
THE RUNNING TIME of the film is listed at 88 minutes; at which length there is no wasted time. The storyline touches all of the basic human motivators of self preservation, love, sex, recognition,power and wealth($$$). The scenario takes through the world of the mid to late 19th century and up to the Gay 90's in the USA. It may well be considered a sort of Historical Docudrama.
STRADDLIG ALL OF the events and aspects of the story is the most basic themes of all; that being a portrait of a man's life. No matter how far afield our cinematic journey takes us, in the end we have a very human story; in which we will learn to be very sympathetic, understanding and even admiring of this Legendary Patron Saint of American Capitalism & Free Enterprise through the Globe.
FINALLY, WE ODDLY enough find that there may well be some elements of the film's story that might well have been literately ancestral to Orson Welles & Joseph L. Mankiewicz's screenplay for CITIZRN KANE (Mercury Production/RKO Radio, 1941).
WHAT WAS THAT, you say!!?? We mean the element of the love-deprived Alpha Male channeling his frustration in other areas; in this case using the consumption of huge, mega doses of meat, poultry and fish dishes to essentially "drown his sorrows." Wow, that's my kinda guy!!
NOTE * Alas it's true that we all must get older or consider the alternative. We're simply trying to stress the importance of our being there to help the young assimilate and understand the historical events and Popular Fictions of the previous generations.
NOTE ** We recall a magazine article some years ago by the late Cleveland Amory that was all about Diamond Jim. In it Mr. Amory related that Brady's physician warned him to radically modify his dietary habits; as his stomach was stretched to 7 or 8 times normal size. Brady refused; his only saving grace was the obligatory huge beaker of fresh squeezed orange juice taken with each huge meal.
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