The Earl of Chicago
Cast & Crew
E. E. Clive
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.
E. E. Clive
Art Berry Sr.
P. J. Kelly
Charles De Grandcourt
Werner R. Heymann
Edwin B. Willis
The Earl of Chicago
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
Producer Victor Saville directed exterior scenes in London, some of which were incorporated into the final print.
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.