Cast & Crew
Soon after the dissipated Sir John Chilchote has disgraced himself during a speech in Parliament, he bumps into his estranged cousin, John Loder, his exact double, in the London fog. Loder jokingly says that he is available to act as a double at dull dinner parties, and the two part. The next day, Chilchote, debilitated by drugs, decides that he needs Loder to take his place in Parliament. Despite Loder's protests, he finally accepts when Brock, Chilchote's butler, convinces him of the family's duty to England. Loder wants to end the masquerade as soon as possible, but his success and Chilchote's inability to fight off drugs prolongs the arrangement. Eve, Chilchote's much neglected wife, begins to fall in love with Loder, thinking that he is her newly reformed husband. Loder loves her as well, but he honorably rebuffs her when she comes to his bedroom one evening. The only person who suspects Loder is Lady Diana Joyce, Chilchote's mistress, who discovers the ruse when she hires a detective. At a dinner party at a night club, Diana tries to unmask the imposter, but at the right moment an intoxicated Chilchote returns as Loder secretly departs. Later, Loder resolves to call the masquerade off for good, but Chilchote dies in Loder's rooms, and Brock arranges for the death certificate to identify the body as Loder's. Loder finally is convinced to assume his cousin's identity for good when Eve tells him that Brock has told her the truth, and she wants him to stay.
Helen Jerome Eddy
Four years before playing dual roles in The Prisoner of Zenda (1937), Ronald Colman did the same in The Masquerader (1933), in many respects a strikingly similar film. Colman here plays Sir John Chilcote, a prominent member of the House of Commons with a drug addiction, as well as John Loder, an idealistic journalist who happens to be Chilcote's distant cousin and - of course - happens to look just like him. Chilcote's political gifts are needed as England faces a devastating economic crisis, but Chilcote is irresponsible, mean, disheveled and manic as he increasingly suffers a physical and mental breakdown. His colleagues are at their wits' ends with him, but he is so talented on the Commons floor that they continue to put up with his unreliability. Happening across his cousin Loder one foggy evening, and then later reading a rousing editorial written by him, Chilcote gets the idea of having Loder take his place for awhile.
Plot mechanics enable this to happen, and Loder soon finds himself not only giving a rousing speech in Parliament (as Chilcote) but then being whisked to Chilcote's stately home, where he must deal with a wife, mistress, friends and servants whom he has never met. Intriguing complications begin when Loder falls for Chilcote's estranged wife Eve (Elissa Landi) but is not in the least attracted to Chilcote's mistress Diana (Juliette Compton). As a result, Eve starts falling for her seemingly changed husband while Diana is so distraught she eventually hires a detective to check up on him. The real Chilcote, meanwhile, lays low in Loder's flat, faring worse and worse from his drug addiction, a condition never explicitly mentioned in the dialogue but unmistakably conveyed in this pre-Code film.
As in most movies of this era with convoluted plots, The Masquerader plays much better on screen than any written description can convey. There's coincidence and contrivance galore, as well as a somewhat uneven tone that veers between light drama and dark tragedy, but it's all so well played (by Colman especially) and so well photographed (by the great Gregg Toland) that the audience is carried along on an enjoyable ride.
The property was already known to the public and had proven itself successful in the past. The Masquerader began as a 1905 novel by John Hunter Booth and then became a 1917 play by Katherine Cecil Thurston - a hit which ran for several years. A silent movie version was produced in 1922. When producer Samuel Goldwyn decided to mount a talkie remake 10 years later, he knew that his contract star Ronald Colman would be perfect for the lead. After all, Colman had already made 17 pictures for Goldwyn, including The Magic Flame (1927), the first film in which Colman played dual roles. The actor had also easily made the transition to sound; he was one of the few to do so with his popularity and romantic image intact. With his beautifully resonant voice and an ability to move through the frame with grace and purpose, Colman became an even bigger star in the sound era than he had been in silents. He was well-suited to stories of romance and history, and even though The Masquerader takes place in the present, its atmosphere of political crisis makes it feel like history is at stake; Colman's duty-bound, decent image feels right at home here. (And of course, the romantic subplot is also perfect for him.)
Colman has fun with Chilcote's and Loder's wildly contrasting characters. It's not just that Chilcote is cruel and Loder is decent; Colman expresses how each man thinks differently, or walks through the frame differently. As an example, take the long sequence in which Loder arrives at Chilcote's house and has no idea where anything is, where any door leads, or who anyone else is. Colman does an absolutely superb job here of using mannerisms and halting physical movement to show a man faking his way through it all, and the contrast with Chilcote's barreling through the frame is very apparent.
One would never otherwise guess that behind the scenes of The Masquerader, a very ugly spat was taking place between Colman and Goldwyn. On November 11, 1932, about two weeks before filming began, Colman sued Goldwyn for $2 million, claiming defamation of character. During production of their previous film, Cynara (1932), a Goldwyn publicist told the press that Colman liked to drink before shooting and tended to be drunk on the set. (The quote most at issue was: "Colman feels he looks better for pictures when moderately dissipated than when completely fit.") An outraged Colman saw this as the last straw in a string of offensive treatments by Goldwyn. He was outraged and a public battle ensued. Colman later said, "I had been patient long enough with Goldwyn. The offenses were repeated over and over again, and only massive retaliation could undo the harm done by those publicity releases." Sensing things might not turn out well, Goldwyn rushed The Masquerader into production while he still had his star around. The suit was eventually settled, but Colman refused to make any more pictures for Goldwyn.
Colman had two years remaining on his contract. He couldn't work anywhere else, so he simply sat those years out - a risky move for one of the world's most popular movie stars. As it turned out, he made a successful comeback in 1934 with Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back, a United Artists release, and followed that up with some of the best work of his entire career, including Lost Horizon (1937). Goldwyn, incidentally, kept The Masquerader on the shelf for quite some time after it was completed since he knew it would be his last Ronald Colman title. The film was finally released in September 1933.
Also in the cast of The Masquerader are Halliwell Hobbes, excellent as the butler who for most of the story is the only one to know of the deception, and Elissa Landi as Chilcote's wife. Italian-born Landi was a real beauty with a brief film career mostly in the 1930s. She projects a palpable sensuality here beneath her calm surface, and emits far more sex appeal than does Juliette Compton's mistress Diana. Landi later became a novelist and poet before she died young (age 43) of cancer.
Cinematographer Gregg Toland, of future Citizen Kane (1941) fame, experiments in The Masquerader with deep-focus photography, near film-noir lighting in many scenes involving Chilcote, and also in photographing ceilings, a rare sight in this era. His trick photography for the shots involving both Ronald Colmans is amazingly realistic and well done, and it was much remarked upon at the time.
Producer: Samuel Goldwyn
Director: Richard Wallace
Screenplay: Howard Estabrook (adaptation and screenplay); Moss Hart (dialogue); John Hunter Booth (play), Katherine Cecil Thurston (novel)
Cinematography: Gregg Toland
Art Direction: Richard Day
Film Editing: Stuart Heisler
Cast: Ronald Colman (Sir John Chilcote/John Loder), Elissa Landi (Eve Chilcote), Juliette Compton (Lady Diana Joyce), David Torrence (Fraser), Claude King (Lakely), Halliwell Hobbes (Brock), Helen Jerome Eddy (Robbins).
by Jeremy Arnold
According to a review of the Katherine Cecil Thurston play in New York Times, it had opened the previous season "in the provinces" and was brought to Broadway after a successful run. The date of the play's first performance before its New York opening has not been determined. Variety, New York Times, and several modern sources incorrectly attribute the part of "Lakely" to Creighton Hale, who played "Bobby Blessington" in the film, as noted in Motion Picture Herald, but was not given screen credit. Onscreen credits misspell Juliette Compton's name as "Julliette." Contemporary news items include Grace Poggi and Cissy FitzGerald in the cast, but their participation in the released film has not been confirmed. One news item noted that FitzGerald, who had been a popular stage and film actress in the 1910s who was known for her distinctive wink, still retained her wink. Other news items noted that William Anthony McGuire was to have written the screenplay but had to withdraw after an appendicitis attack, and that King Vidor was originally set to direct the picture but exercised his contractual option with Goldwyn and declined the assignment. During production, actress Elissa Landi became ill, necessitating a halt in production in late December 1932. Because of the length of Landi's illness, Hollywood Reporter noted that Benita Hume and Esther Ralston were both considered as replacements for the role of Eve Chilcote, but when negotiations for those two actresses fell threw, Goldyn decided to hold up production until Landi's return. A January 7, 1933 news item in Hollywood Reporter noted that Landi composed the music that she played on the piano during a scene with Ronald Colman.
The Masquerader was Colman's eighteenth and last film for Samuel Goldwyn. Colman had been Goldwyn's top star for several years prior to this production, but, according to a news item in Hollywood Reporter on November 11, 1932, Colman sued Goldwyn for $2,000,000 for defamation of character. According to modern sources, the two began to disagree increasingly during the production of Colman's previous film, Cynara. Modern sources offer various reasons for the suit, but most attribute it to information given to the press by a Goldwyn publicist which implied that Colman was a heavy drinker. Subsequent to Colman's discovery of the story, the actor refused to complete the last two years of his contract. The suit was settled out-of-court, by terms of which Colman agreed to honor his contract if he were loaned to another studio for his final pictures. His next film, Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back, was made for David O. Selznick's company and released by United Artists in 1934. According to a 1937 speech delivered by Selznick that is reproduced in a modern source, The Masquerader was not a success, and because it was not, when Selznick wanted Colman to play a dual role in A Tale of Two Cities (see below), for M-G-M, the actor refused. In 1937, however, Colman again played a dual role, but with greater success, in Selznick's The Prisoner of Zenda (see below). The Masquerader was previously filmed in 1922 by director James Young for Associated First National and starred Guy Bates Post, the star of the original stage version. Like Colman, Bates played both Chilcote and Loder. See AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.3518.