Although George Arliss is essentially a character actor, he possesses that rare ability to inspire in his audiences the "will to believe" which is so essential to all great flction, and which is so lacking in contemporary drama. His popularity rests in his ability to idealize, not convincingly to render the personality of whatever part he may be acting, but the film currently at the University seemed to make it unmistakable that the producers are quite oblivious of the true value of Arliss' work.
The plot of "A Successful Calamity" concerns the attempts of Arliss as an aged but active captain of finance to keep his family at home for dinner. The action in the picture comes as a result of the butler's advice to Arliss that "the poor don't get to go out much." Feigned ruin on the part of the successful financier follows in short order, and the true storing qualities of his family are brought out when his son tries to got a job, and his daughter runs off to marry a boy whom she dislikes, in order that she may be able to support her father and step-mother. All is saved in time, however; the son unwittingly makes several million additional dollars for his father, and the girl marries her big, strong polo player, whom she loves.
The film shows an obvious attempt on the part of the producers to provide Arliss with a vehicle, however crude, in which to display his often repeated and admittedly delightful mannerisms. The whole performance was rendered so obvious by overacting on the part of the supporting cast, and lack of imagination on the part of the author that Arliss' already overworked portrayal of a twinkling gentleman of leisure failed utterly to produce the desired effect.
It is impossible to raise the standard of a poor picture by means of the reputation of a great actor without reducing that reputation to a corresponding degree in the process. If Warner Brothers, incorporated recognizes that fact, and comes to the realization that the strength of Arliss' personality transcends limitations of appearance and manner, a few more productions like "Disraeli" might almost be expected to appear in the future.
"Hold em Jail," the companion picture, is another of Wheeler and Woolsey's uproarious, inane vehicles, in which the two protagonists get railroaded into jail and proceed to win the football game in an inter-prison league. Stadium tactics are hardly in order when our two heroes let loose their bag of tricks, not the least among which are a chloroform-soaked handkerchief and a boomerang pigskin.