The Earl of Chicago


1h 25m 1940
The Earl of Chicago

Brief Synopsis

A Chicago gangster inherits a British title.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Drama
Release Date
Jan 5, 1940
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Earl of Chicago by Brock Williams (New York, 1937).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 25m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9 reels

Synopsis

Robert "Silky" Kilmount, an ex-bootlegger turned legitimate distiller, offers Quentin "Doc" Ramsey, a man he framed and sent to jail seven years earlier, the job of general manager at the Kilmount distillery. Doc, seething with bitterness upon his release from prison, takes advantage of Silky's implicit faith in his honesty and accepts the job, waiting for a chance for revenge. Soon after accepting the position, Doc finds his opportunity when Gervase Gonwell, an English attorney, appears at the office to announce that Silky has inherited the Kilmount estate from his late uncle, the Earl of Kinmonth. Although he is aware that by law the estate cannot be sold, Doc encourages Silky to travel to England and cash in on his newly found inheritance. When Silky insists that Doc accompany him, Doc forges Silky's signature on a document granting him power of attorney and begins his scheme to ruin the ex-gangster and new earl. Silky's arrival in England pits his gutter bred demeanor and philosophy against British tradition, but under the guidance of his kindly butler Munsey, and his cousin Gerald, Silky learns about his family history and to appreciate the concept of noblesse oblige . As Silky tries to ascertain the value of his estate, Doc slowly bankrupts his empire. It is not until his investiture in the House of Lords that Silky learns he is bankrupt and is forbidden to sell the estate. Enraged, Silky confronts Doc, his betrayer, and kills him. For his crime, Silky is sentenced by the members of the House of Lords to the traditional form of execution for a peer, hanging by a silken rope at the Tower of London. Though frightened at first, Silky accepts his fate under Munsey's guidance, and walks to his death in the fashion of a true nobleman.

Cast

Robert Montgomery

[Robert] "Silky" Kilmount

Edward Arnold

[Quentin] "Doc" Ramsey

Reginald Owen

Gervase Gonwell

Edmund Gwenn

Munsey

E. E. Clive

Redwood

Ronald Sinclair

Gerald Kilmount

Norma Varden

Maureen Kilmount

Halliwell Hobbes

Lord Chancellor

Ian Wulf

Reading clerk

Peter Godfrey

Judson

Billy Bevan

Guide

Frederick Worlock

Lord Elfic

Miles Mander

Attorney general

William Stack

Coroner

Kenneth Hunter

Lord Tyrmanell

Charles Coleman

Bishop

Rex Evans

Vicar

John Burton

Clerk

Art Berry Sr.

Seedsman

David Dunbar

Plowman

Harold Howard

Fisherman

Robert Cory

Fisherman

Henry Flynn

Villager

Col. Ford

Villager

Vangie Beilby

Old maid

Radford Allen

Boy

Craufurd Kent

Specialist

Montague Shaw

Doctor

Ben Welden

Driver

Olaf Hytten

Hodges

Pierre Watkin

Warden

George Anderson

Guard

Nora Perry

Receptionist

William Haade

Crapshooter

Eddie Marr

Offender

Anthony Warde

Salesman

John Butler

Slim

Gladys Blake

Silken legs

Lowden Adams

Floor waiter

Alec Harford

Mr. Dell

Arthur Mulliner

Mr. Brackton

Barlowe Borland

Fingal

Alec Craig

Son

John Power

Tourist

Ivan Simpson

Hargraves

Barbara Bedford

Doc's secretary

Tempe Pigott

Mrs. Oakes

Ben Webster

Gaffer

Ellis Irving

Russell

Colin Kenny

Sergeant

Matthew Boulton

Ickerton

Paul England

Chief constable

Boyd Irwin

Presiding magistrate

Leonard Mudie

Allington

David Clyde

Hanger-on

P. J. Kelly

Hanger-on

Claude King

Yoeman usher

Holmes Herbert

Sergeant at arms

Ralph Stock

Constable

Leyton Lee

Adjutant

Gladden James

Silky's secretary

Yvonne Severn

Village girl

Harry Allen

Mayor

Frank Benson

Sexton

Jimmy Aubrey

Cockney

Frank Baker

Policeman

Forbes Murray

Diplomat

Robert Warwick

Clerk of parliament

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Drama
Release Date
Jan 5, 1940
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Earl of Chicago by Brock Williams (New York, 1937).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 25m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9 reels

Articles

The Earl of Chicago


The Earl of Chicago (1940) is a striking and unusual film. What begins as a typical bootlegging gangster yarn takes an unexpected turn when reformed Chicago gangster Robert Montgomery learns that he has inherited an English title, an estate, and a membership in the House of Lords. Interested only in "the loot," he goes to England with his trusted lawyer friend (Edward Arnold) to collect, and things take a comic slant. Montgomery's total lack of education, and lack of knowledge in the ways of the aristocracy, hinder him left and right. His new butler Munsey (an outstanding Edmund Gwenn) does his best to help him navigate this new world, and then defends him with admirable loyalty when comedy gives way to tragedy and Montgomery is put on trial in the House of Lords for murder.

Even though the underlying premise of this story is not very credible, it moves from drama to comedy to tragedy with impressive credibility - thanks not only to a well-crafted script and impeccable production values but to Robert Montgomery's fascinating performance. As the movie unfolds, it feels all external - stereotypical gangster swagger - but by the ending one realizes that he has brought a surprisingly effective poignancy to the role. Montgomery accomplishes so much with his voice. His character's struggle even to speak basic English goes through the same arc as the story itself. First he sounds simply like a typical gangster. Then, in England, his speech sounds comically idiotic. And later, when he struggles to defend himself in court, his simplistic speaking ability comes off as tragic. In this sense alone, it is quite a brilliant piece of acting.

The Earl of Chicago was directed by Richard Thorpe, but the real guiding force was producer Victor Saville. Saville was an experienced English director, writer and producer who had recently overseen some of Britain's most prestigious films, such as The Citadel (1938) and Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939). While he had previously come to America in 1929 to direct Woman to Woman, starring Betty Compson for Tiffany Pictures, The Earl of Chicago began his Hollywood producing career.

The rights to the Brock Williams novel on which the picture is based were originally owned by David Selznick, who planned to produce it with Edward G. Robinson in the starring role. Instead, he wound up selling the rights to MGM in July 1938, at Robert Montgomery's urging. With his recent Oscar® nomination for Night Must Fall (1937), Montgomery had some pull at MGM. In a conversation with John Kobal, Saville later recalled that even though this film was based on a novel, "the man who was really responsible for the story and style was Robert Montgomery," whose ideas for radically altering the book's plot were fashioned into a screenplay by Lesser Samuels.

MGM planned to make The Earl of Chicago in England at their facility in Denham, but when war broke out in September 1939, the Denham studios closed and MGM shifted production to Hollywood. Victor Saville had already shot a few exteriors in England, some of which survive in the picture. The movie certainly feels as if it was shot in England, which is a testament to the craftsmanship of everyone involved. Paintings, matte shots and clever framing do much to create the illusion of grand, authentic sets. For the House of Lords set, for instance, Saville said that "only a bit of the entrance hall and a bit of the balcony" were constructed. Watching the finished film it is almost impossible to believe this.

One important person was fooled at the time, too. Saville recalled with glee being summoned into Louis B. Mayer's office to be chastised for overly lavish spending. "Victor, you ruin us making a picture of this cost!" fumed Mayer. Saville replied that he had in fact not gone over cost - that he had delivered the picture for the half-million dollar budget. "But all those buildings, and the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Hall," protested Mayer, fully believing all the interiors to have been the real thing. The studio chief was astonished when Saville proved his case by showing him the budget breakdown.

The New York Times hit the nail on the head in its 1940 review of this picture: "To miss it would be to miss a major treat."

Producer: Victor Saville
Director: Richard Thorpe
Screenplay: Charles de Grandcourt, Gene Fowler, Lesser Samuels, Brock Williams (book)
Cinematography: Ray June
Film Editing: Frank Sullivan
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Werner R. Heymann
Cast: Robert Montgomery (Robert Kilmount), Edward Arnold (Quentin Ramsey), Reginald Owen (Gervase Gonwell), Edmund Gwenn (Munsey), E.E. Clive (Mr. Redwood), Ronald Sinclair (Master Gerald Kilmount).
BW-87m. Closed captioning.

by Jeremy Arnold
The Earl Of Chicago

The Earl of Chicago

The Earl of Chicago (1940) is a striking and unusual film. What begins as a typical bootlegging gangster yarn takes an unexpected turn when reformed Chicago gangster Robert Montgomery learns that he has inherited an English title, an estate, and a membership in the House of Lords. Interested only in "the loot," he goes to England with his trusted lawyer friend (Edward Arnold) to collect, and things take a comic slant. Montgomery's total lack of education, and lack of knowledge in the ways of the aristocracy, hinder him left and right. His new butler Munsey (an outstanding Edmund Gwenn) does his best to help him navigate this new world, and then defends him with admirable loyalty when comedy gives way to tragedy and Montgomery is put on trial in the House of Lords for murder. Even though the underlying premise of this story is not very credible, it moves from drama to comedy to tragedy with impressive credibility - thanks not only to a well-crafted script and impeccable production values but to Robert Montgomery's fascinating performance. As the movie unfolds, it feels all external - stereotypical gangster swagger - but by the ending one realizes that he has brought a surprisingly effective poignancy to the role. Montgomery accomplishes so much with his voice. His character's struggle even to speak basic English goes through the same arc as the story itself. First he sounds simply like a typical gangster. Then, in England, his speech sounds comically idiotic. And later, when he struggles to defend himself in court, his simplistic speaking ability comes off as tragic. In this sense alone, it is quite a brilliant piece of acting. The Earl of Chicago was directed by Richard Thorpe, but the real guiding force was producer Victor Saville. Saville was an experienced English director, writer and producer who had recently overseen some of Britain's most prestigious films, such as The Citadel (1938) and Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939). While he had previously come to America in 1929 to direct Woman to Woman, starring Betty Compson for Tiffany Pictures, The Earl of Chicago began his Hollywood producing career. The rights to the Brock Williams novel on which the picture is based were originally owned by David Selznick, who planned to produce it with Edward G. Robinson in the starring role. Instead, he wound up selling the rights to MGM in July 1938, at Robert Montgomery's urging. With his recent Oscar® nomination for Night Must Fall (1937), Montgomery had some pull at MGM. In a conversation with John Kobal, Saville later recalled that even though this film was based on a novel, "the man who was really responsible for the story and style was Robert Montgomery," whose ideas for radically altering the book's plot were fashioned into a screenplay by Lesser Samuels. MGM planned to make The Earl of Chicago in England at their facility in Denham, but when war broke out in September 1939, the Denham studios closed and MGM shifted production to Hollywood. Victor Saville had already shot a few exteriors in England, some of which survive in the picture. The movie certainly feels as if it was shot in England, which is a testament to the craftsmanship of everyone involved. Paintings, matte shots and clever framing do much to create the illusion of grand, authentic sets. For the House of Lords set, for instance, Saville said that "only a bit of the entrance hall and a bit of the balcony" were constructed. Watching the finished film it is almost impossible to believe this. One important person was fooled at the time, too. Saville recalled with glee being summoned into Louis B. Mayer's office to be chastised for overly lavish spending. "Victor, you ruin us making a picture of this cost!" fumed Mayer. Saville replied that he had in fact not gone over cost - that he had delivered the picture for the half-million dollar budget. "But all those buildings, and the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Hall," protested Mayer, fully believing all the interiors to have been the real thing. The studio chief was astonished when Saville proved his case by showing him the budget breakdown. The New York Times hit the nail on the head in its 1940 review of this picture: "To miss it would be to miss a major treat." Producer: Victor Saville Director: Richard Thorpe Screenplay: Charles de Grandcourt, Gene Fowler, Lesser Samuels, Brock Williams (book) Cinematography: Ray June Film Editing: Frank Sullivan Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons Music: Werner R. Heymann Cast: Robert Montgomery (Robert Kilmount), Edward Arnold (Quentin Ramsey), Reginald Owen (Gervase Gonwell), Edmund Gwenn (Munsey), E.E. Clive (Mr. Redwood), Ronald Sinclair (Master Gerald Kilmount). BW-87m. Closed captioning. by Jeremy Arnold

Quotes

Trivia

Producer Victor Saville directed exterior scenes in London, some of which were incorporated into the final print.

Notes

According to news items in Motion Picture Daily and Hollywood Reporter, David O. Selznick originally owned the rights to the Brock Williams novel and planned to produce the film with Edward G. Robinson in the starring role. In July 1938, however, Selznick sold his rights to the novel to M-G-M. According to a 22 July Hollywood Reporter news item, M-G-M purchased it for Spencer Tracy. According to a 22 August Motion Picture Daily news item, however, the studio bought the story as a starring vehicle for Robert Montgomery, and planned to produce it at the M-G-M British studios in Denham, England. When the war broke out in Europe in early September 1939, the Denham studios closed temporarily and the decision was made to shoot the picture at M-G-M's main studio in Culver City, CA. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item on October 7, 1939, producer Victor Saville had already directed some location footage in London especially for The Earl of Chicago prior to Denham's closure. Saville's footage was then shipped to the United States to be incorporated in the Richard Thorpe directed scenes.