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teaser Whirlpool (1934)

The working title of Whirlpool (1934) was The Forgotten Man, and it seems to be a more appropriate title as the film itself is a forgotten gem for fans of Jean Arthur. It is the story of Buck Rankin, a carnival owner, (played by Jack Holt) who is convicted of manslaughter for the death of a man killed in a fight. Wanting his pregnant wife to have a better life, he convinces the warden of the prison to send his wife a letter telling her that he was killed trying to escape. Twenty-five years later, his daughter Sandra (Arthur), now a newspaper reporter, recognizes her father as Duke Sheldon, nightclub owner. When Rankin is threatened with blackmail over his former identity, tragedy ensues.

The film was based on a story by Howard Emmett Rogers (who also wrote For Me and My Gal [1942] and Libeled Lady [1936]) and was directed by Roy William Neill, most famous for directing the later Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone. Jean Arthur had appeared in over 50 films by 1934, beginning her career in the silent days when she was a brunette. A stage actress, she had been dissatisfied with the caliber of roles she was getting in Hollywood and had left for two years to go back to the stage in New York and summer stock. She returned to Hollywood for Whirlpool, which was important to her career, even though it was not a smash hit.

John Oller, in his book, Jean Arthur: The Actress Nobody Knew wrote that Whirlpool was important because it was the first film that "allowed Arthur to engage in genuine repartee. Whirlpool was also the first film in which Arthur played a traditionally masculine role - here, a big-city newspaper reporter. She appears relaxed and confident, almost brash at times. While critics have tended to overlook Whirlpool in tracing Arthur's metamorphosis as a film actress, it remains the earliest film in which one can recognize the Jean Arthur of the classic movies of her later years." Arthur appeared as a newspaper reporter in several films, including the one that catapulted her to stardom two years later, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), and most famously, in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939).

Jean Arthur received an excellent notice from The New York Herald Tribune's Howard Barnes, who noted her "brilliant and thoroughly plausible portrayal of a difficult role, marking her as a first-rate actress." Barnes wrote that Holt's performance was "quite overshadowed by that of Miss Arthur. In a role calling for subtle inflections and a sure sense of the values in human relationships, she is altogether admirable, giving the whole production most of the poignancy and inevitable tragedy to which it pretends."

Director: Roy William Neill
Screenplay: Dorothy Howell, Ethel Hill; Howard Emmett Rogers (story)
Cinematography: Benjamin Kline; Joseph H. August, John Stumar (both uncredited)
Music: Mischa Bakaleinikoff, Louis Silvers (uncredited)
Film Editing: Richard Cahoon
Cast: Jack Holt (Buck Rankin), Jean Arthur (Sandra Morrison), Donald Cook (Bob Andrews), Allen Jenkins (Mac), Lila Lee (Helen Morrison), John Miljan (Barney Gaige), Rita La Roy (Thelma), Oscar Apfel (Editor), Willard Robertson (Judge Jim Morrison), Ward Bond (Farley), Warren G. Harding (President Harding, archive footage).

by Lorraine LoBianco

The Internet Movie Database
Jean Arthur: The Actress Nobody Knows by John Oller

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