Cast & Crew
After the dashing English bank robber Barrington Hunt and his American accomplice, Smiley Corbin, flee from the site of their latest illegal accomplishment in Paris, Barry goes to Algeria. He keeps a low profile in the city of Orage while awaiting an opportunity to join Smiley in the desert at the hotel Palais Royale, a notorious "unholy garden," where criminals can safely hide without fear of police interference or extradition. His opportunity comes when Commandant Louis Lautrac sends his mistress, the sultry Elise Mowbry, to lure Barry into a trap. Barry agrees to go with Elise to her apartment, but after seeing a plaque identifying her car as belonging to Lautrac, he overpowers her and takes her with him as he drives to the Royale. There he is greeted by the hotel's owners, Mme. Lucie Villars and her husband, and Smiley, who tells him that their profits from their bank job disappeared when he met a "dame." Smiley is now embroiled in a scheme with some of the hotel's more unsavory inhabitants, including the German murderer Dr. Shayne, Colonel Von Axt, Kid Twist and Prince Nicolai Poliakoff. The group has discovered that Baron Louis de Jonghe, an elderly, blind, wheelchair-bound Parisian who has lived at the hotel for fifteen years with his innocent granddaughter Camille, is allegedly in possession of a huge sum of money that he embezzled from a bank. While the others vote to kill the baron and search his room immediately, Barry determines that the best way to the fortune is through the heart of the impressionable and lovely Camille. The suave Barry quickly wins the affections of Camille, who has grown to womanhood while surrounded by brutal criminals, and rejects the constant attempts by Elise to seduce him. Camille is crushed when Barry admits that he, too, is a criminal, and when he discovers the hiding place of the baron's money, it appears that he will still steal the money and disappear with Smiley, despite his own growing love for Camille. The other gangsters become suspicious of Barry's leisurely methods of finding the loot, and Elise confides to them that Smiley and Barry have asked for the use of her car. Suspecting that Barry intends to double-cross them, Shayne and Von Axt threaten him at the hotel's Christmas party, but Barry convinces them that he will steal the money that night and escape with them. While Twist and Nick the Goose are also threatening Barry, the baron's brother Alfred arrives and informs him that the government will pardon him if he returns to Paris and gives back the stolen money. The baron refuses, saying that the money is for Camille, and soon after Barry steals the money, the baron is killed by Von Axt. Barry befriends Alfred and convinces Camille that he is not her grandfather's murderer, and then helps them escape from the pursuing cutthroats. He gives the money to Camille, who has realized that she loves him no matter what, and unselfishly gives her up as he tells her that someday she will meet an honest man. He joins Smiley in Elise's stolen car, and as the two men escape, he answers Smiley's query about the money by saying that he just met a "dame."
Lucille La Verne
William Von Brincken
John George Mohammed
The Unholy Garden
The title locale is the Palais Royale, a notorious hotel in the Algerian desert city of Orage where dashing thief Barrington Hunt (Colman) and his American accomplice Smiley Corbin have taken refuge from the European authorities pursuing them. There he meets the elderly, infirm Baron Louis de Joghe, allegedly hiding out there for 15 years with a huge sum of money he embezzled, and his lovely, innocent granddaughter Camille (Fay Wray). While the many criminals holed up in the hotel plot how to get ahold of the Baron's money, Hunt decides to romance Camille as his route to the fortune. In the end, Hunt gets the money, but changed by Camille's love, he decides to do the right thing.
The famed scriptwriting team of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur gets credit for the screenplay, but according to modern sources, they "consigned" the actually writing of the story they developed to other unnamed writers so that they could go to work on the script for Scarface (1932). Since Hecht (along with several others) but not MacArthur is listed as the writer of the famous Howard Hawks gangster film, the reason seems disputable. But it is possible they passed it off to one or more subordinates; some sources claim it was written by John Lee Mahin, a friend and frequent collaborator of director Victor Fleming and an Academy Award nominee for Captains Courageous (1937) and Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957).
Also somewhat in dispute is the question of who actually shot The Unholy Garden. On-screen credit goes to George Barnes, an eight-time nominee and winner for Alfred Hitchcock's American debut Rebecca (1940). But most sources say famed cinematographer Gregg Toland (The Grapes of Wrath, 1940; Citizen Kane, 1941) had a hand in the production, and the New York Times online movie file even lists Toland as the sole cinematographer. According to news items at the time in the Motion Picture Herald and Hollywood Reporter, director George Fitzmaurice shot extensive retakes and additional scenes in July 1931 after previews of The Unholy Garden failed to garner much positive reaction from audiences. The Reporter noted the unevenness of the film's photography and suggested the retakes may have been done by someone other than Barnes. In reviews in the Herald and Film Daily, Toland is given co-credit, even though his name doesn't appear on screen.
Director George Fitzmaurice is largely forgotten today, and he never rose to the ranks of the great filmmakers of his time. An American born in Paris, he studied art there and initially went into set design for stage productions and then, in 1908, for films. He eventually moved into first writing, then directing motion pictures. He also produced several of his own productions, including The Unholy Garden; two Greta Garbo pictures, Mata Hari (1931) and As You Desire Me (1932); and the successful sequel to an equally popular exotic romance, The Son of the Sheik (1926), featuring Rudolph Valentino in one of his most iconic roles.
Ronald Colman starred in eight of Fitzmaurice's films, including a turn as the distinguished gentleman jewel thief Raffles (1930). Colman is also listed in most sources as an extra in Fitzmaurice's The Eternal City (1923). Why this should be so is unclear as Colman, although not yet a star, was already a known actor with increasingly prominent roles. It will likely remain a mystery as The Eternal City, like much of Fitzmaurice's work (including several Colman films), is presumed to be lost. Although Colman is the undisputed star of The Unholy Garden and his name is placed above the title, it is listed last in the scroll of players.
Fay Wray, Colman's romantic interest in The Unholy Garden, had nearly 50 films under her belt by the time they appeared together for the first and only time. She had been in movies less than ten years at this point and was still two years away from her most legendary role as the scantily clad, ever-shrieking Ann Darrow in King Kong (1933). The other major female role in this picture went to Estelle Taylor, once considered one of Hollywood's most beautiful women. Taylor was married to champion prizefighter Jack Dempsey from 1925 to 1930.
The Unholy Garden was the first notable film score for Alfred Newman, who went on to receive an amazing 45 Academy Award nominations and nine wins over the course of his 40-year career. One of his nominations was for the Ronald Colman vehicle The Prisoner of Zenda (1937).
Director: George Fitzmaurice
Producers: George Fitzmaurice, Samuel Goldwyn
Screenplay: Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur
Cinematography: George Barnes, Gregg Toland (uncredited)
Editing: Grant Whytock
Original Music: Alfred Newman
Cast: Ronald Colman (Barrington Hunt), Fay Wray (Camille de Jonghe), Estelle Taylor (Eliza Mowbray), Warren Hymer (Smiley Corbin), Mischa Auer (Prince Nicolai Poliakoff).
by Rob Nixon
The Unholy Garden
Fay Wray (1907-2004)
She was born Vina Fay Wray, in Cardston, Alberta, Canada on September 15, 1907. Her family relocated to Arizona when she was still a toddler so her father could find employment. When her parents divorced, her mother sent her to Hollywood when Fay's eldest sister died in the influenza epidemic of 1918. The reasoning was that Southern California offered a healthier climate for the young, frail Wray.
She attended Hollywood High School, where she took some classes in drama. After she graduated, she applied to the Hal Roach studio and was given a six-month contract where she appeared in two-reel Westerns (25 minutes in length), and played opposite Stan Laurel in his pre-Oliver Hardy days.
She landed her first big role, as Mitzi Schrammell, in Erich von Stroheim's beautifully mounted silent The Wedding March (1928). It made Wray a star. She then starred in some excellent films: The Four Feathers (1929), the early Gary Cooper Western The Texan (1930), and one of Ronald Coleman's first starring roles The Unholy Garden (1931), all of which were big hits of the day.
For whatever reason, Wray soon found herself in a string of thrillers that made her one of the great screamers in Hollywood history. The titles say it all: Doctor X, The Most Dangerous Game (both 1932), Mystery of the Wax Museum, The Vampire Bat (both 1933) and, of course her most famous role, that of Ann Darrow, who tempts cinema's most famous ape in the unforgettable King Kong (also 1933).
Wray did prove herself quite capable in genre outside of the horror game, the best of which were Shanghai Madness with Spencer Tracy; The Bowery (both 1933), a tough pre-Hays Code drama opposite George Raft; and the brutal Viva Villa (1934), with Wallace Beery about the famed Mexican bandit. Yet curiously, the quality of her scripts began to tank, and she eventually found herself acting in such mediocre fare as Come Out of the Pantry (1935), and They Met in a Taxi (1936).
With her roles becoming increasingly routine, the last of which was the forgettable comedy Not a Ladies Man (1942), she decided to trade acting for domesticity and married Robert Riskin, who won two Best Screenplay Oscars® for the Frank Capra comedies It Happened One Night (1934) and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936). When Riskin died in 1955, Wray found herself working to keep busy and support her three children. She landed supporting parts for films like The Cobweb (1955), Hell on Frisco Bay (1956) and Tammy and the Bachelor (1957). She also found work in television on such popular programs as Perry Mason and Wagon Train before she retired from acting all together in the mid-'60s.
To her credit, Wray did remain reasonably active after her retirement. She published her autobiography, On The Other Hand in 1989 and was attending many film festivals that honored her contribution to film, most notably in January 2003, when, at 95 years of age, she accepted in person her "Legend in Film" Award at the Palm Beach International Film Festival. Wray is survived by a son, Robert Riskin Jr.; two daughters, Susan and Victoria; and two grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Fay Wray (1907-2004)
Although Ronald Colman's name is listed above the title, it is placed last in the list of "The Players." According to Motion Picture Herald and Hollywood Reporter news items, director George Fitzmaurice shot extensive retakes and additional scenes in July 1931 after previews of this film met with the audiences' disapproval. A Hollywood Reporter news item noted that the photography was uneven throughout the film and speculated that the retakes were done by a photographer other than George Barnes, who receives onscreen credit. Gregg Toland is credited as co-photographer in the Motion Picture Herald and Film Daily reviews, and it is possible that he shot the additional scenes. The Unholy Garden marks the last film appearance of actor Ullrich Haupt, who was killed in a hunting accident on August 6, 1931. This was also the eighth and final Ronald Colman film directed by George Fitzmaurice. According to modern sources, writers Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur "consigned" the writing of the script to two unnamed subordinates after they began preparing the script for Scarface.