Hollywood has certainly had it’s share of stars that are immutable, but nobody has ever been able to equal the amount of the flowing abundance of talent that the Barrymore family has been showcasing for years.
As each decade passed, there has always been a prominent figure with the surname of Barrymore active under the helm of Hollywood or the entertainment industry. Even after the deaths of John, Ethel and Lionel, the Barrymore legacy has been passed on to their children and continuing on to the present day with John’s granddaughter, Drew Barrymore.
It’s almost hard to imagine what Hollywood would be like without the presence of a Barrymore. This is a family that has been diligent and physically dynamic in theatrics before the birth of motion pictures, but since the movies officially came to the fore, the status of the Barrymore’s escalated to great heights, rapidly earning them the title of “The Royal Family of Hollywood”.
The most eminent members of the family are John, Ethel and Lionel, who with their inimitable flair for acting had a large impact on the film industry. With their growing popularity, audiences wanted to see the siblings together, which proved to be onerous with Ethel maintaining a stage career on the East coast while John and Lionel were making films in California. However persistence paid off in 1932 when the whole three siblings starred in Rasputin And The Empress.
Before the famous reunion for Rasputin And The Empress, John and Lionel had worked together twice in the same year, exhibiting a rather polished chemistry that would make audiences campaign for more film duo’s of the siblings.
None of this would have eventuated if John’s intentions of returning to the stage came to fruition. For a while John had a strong desideratum to quit motion picture acting to follow Ethel’s footsteps to a stage career, but with substantial mortgage payments and Dolores falling pregnant with their second child accompanied with heavy drinking and a fear of the live audience he was unable to accomplish his dream. Instead he took a $25,000 cut per picture and moved to MGM, where on his arrival Irving Thalberg was elated to announce the news to him about teaming him with Lionel in Arsène Lupin.
As it turned out, Irving Thalberg’s idea paid off when the picture was a triumphant success. Millions worldwide were eager to see the two Barrymore brothers challenging each other in totally opposite roles, but once witnessing that special sibling chemistry they wanted more, and that is what they got.
Expertly adapted to the screen from the novel by Maurice Leblanc, the author who first gave life to the fictional gentleman thief in 1905. Many years later, Arsène Lupin has become one of the most famous fictional characters in history.
The film Arsène Lupin was the master work of Jack Conway who used his creative prowess to direct a prestigious production which would serve as a milestone in Barrymore history.
The plots main cynosure is the criminal actions of the famed jewel thief who is targeting the wealthy of Paris. As soon as the film opens a robbery is taking place at the residence of Gaston Gourney Martin. Once the police are called, Inspector Guerchard ( Lionel Barrymore ) immediately suspects the Duke of Charmerace ( John Barrymore ) to be Arsène Lupin.
During the unfolding of the story, a few more items of opulence are stolen, including the renowned paining of Mona Lisa at the Louvre. Now Inspector Guerchard must start snooping around for evidence to prove that he’s correct with the identity of Arsène Lupin.
Arsène Lupin was perfect competition for the Barrymore brothers to play off against one another. Off screen sibling rivalry was very evident in the family, while in the film the embroilment that ensued between John and Lionel in real life was closely depicted with the two characters counteracting each other in a game of cat and mouse.
The final result is effective. Both brothers are fireworks in Arsène Lupin. It is their characters that bring the movie to life. John Barrymore as the Duke of Charmerace is suave, sophisticated and intelligent with an air of mystery while Lionel Barrymore as Inspector Guerchard is cantankerous and moody, inhabiting an acidic aura which brings wit to his character.
Arsène Lupin is a film where the characters create a substance instead of the plot. While watching the dueling personalities you forget about what’s going on in the background. The films story is in the characters; it’s them with their timely mannerisms and perfected silent film expressions that tell the story.
The films female presence comes in the form of Sonia ( Karen Morley ), who brings seductiveness into an already racy production. Sonia’s character isn’t easily revealed. She is here as either a bored socialite, a police assistant or more than the above. In all cases, she gets highly tangled with the Duke of Charmerace, which makes the Pre-Code sparkle.
From the imaginative script to the astute and intelligent dialogue abounded by characters with an air of mystery and sophistication, Arsène Lupin is the fine art of movie making.
Based on a stage play adapted from a 1904 novel which have both been made and remade many times since. The two most notable are the 1938 direct sequel with pre-Code favorite Warren William as the detective out to catch Melvyn Douglas in Arsene Lupin Returns and the Japanese anime adaptation of the character that resulted in the quite-fun Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979), directed by Hayao Miyazaki.
The Duke of Charmerace: “Do you want to go back to your solitaire, or would you prefer something that requires *two* people?”
Sonia: ” I’m going to stay right here in this bed until you leave this room.”
[Chamerace walks over to the window and prepares to toss out the dress]
Sonia: “What are you doing?”
The Duke of Charmerace: “Well, if you’re going to stay in bed you won’t need the dress.”
John Barrymore: Born John Sidney Blyth on February 15th, 1882 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Died: May 29th, 1942 in Los Angeles, California. Aged 60.
Lionel Barrymore: Born Lionel Herbert Blythe on April 28th, 1878 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Died: November 15th, 1954 in Van Nuys, California. Aged 76.