Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


THE MAD GENIUS (1931). Director: Michael Curtiz.

In a variation on Svengali, in which he also starred, John Barrymore (pictured) plays a puppeteer whom fate brings into contact with a boy through which he can live out his frustrated dreams of becoming a dancer. Years later Barrymore is an impresario with a German ballet company and the lad, Fedor (Donald Cook), is its principal male dancer. Ivan Tsarakov (Barrymore) is an old lech who thinks women are strictly for lovin' and leavin', and he's angry when Fedor falls for Nana (Marian Marsh), a pretty, talented dancer in the company, because he's afraid she'll somehow prevent him from fulfilling his genius. When Tsarakov cruelly tries to break the two up, Fedor strikes out on his own -- but Tsarakov does his best to stymie his ambitions. This is a handsome, well-photographed production with interesting aspects and some uneven acting -- even from the great Barrymore -- but ultimately it's a very minor effort. Charles Butterworth offers some comedy relief as Ivan's put-upon assistant (his idea for a ballet is hilarious). Marsh proves an able and expressive actress. Luis Alberni is also quite effective as Sergei, the drug-addicted ballet director who figures in a somewhat bravura and grotesque finale.

Verdict: Intriguing but disappointing. **1/2.

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