Another biopic written by Preston Sturges (with Harry Clork and Doris Malloy getting an “adapted by” credit, and it based on a book by Parker Morell, this is the tale of “Diamond Jim” Brady (Edward Arnold), a man who made his money pretty quickly by scheming and wheeling and dealing and all that kind of thing. He’s in the railroad business, and he ain’t ashamed of it as we’re told a good few times, and he also enjoys the odd bit of gambling on the horses though the film downplays this element of his story and other slightly more lurid parts of his life.
Supposedly completely tee total after his mother begged him to stay off the liquor as a baby, she died when he was ten so Jim had to head out to work, though the film doesn’t really have any interest in his life story as a kid and jumps forward to 1886 where a now old looking Jim wants to be a salesman and he talks his way in to the role after renting a suit and a diamond so that he looks far more successful than he really is.
After a card game on a train turns in to a brawl Brady helps out an Englishman who he nicknames “English” (Eric Blore), as he’s clever like that, and “English” becomes his assistant for many, many years to come. He also meets singer / actress Lillian Russell (Binnie Barnes) and clearly has feelings for her though they aren’t reciprocated, and the rest of the film is a mixture of his exciting business antics and his friendship with Lillian which never goes in the direction he hopes it will.
As with most films that Sturges wrote in the early thirties though it’s lacking in the physical comedy and slapstick he’d later become famous for it’s certainly packed with some very strong dialogue. Diamond Jim is portrayed as an almost angelic figure who always does the right thing and treats his friends with love and affection, even when one of them has an affair with the woman he’s been dating for many a year. Jim also gives a good few impressive speeches and is a patriotic sort, one who believes in the American way and capitalism (if there’s any difference between the two) and isn’t afraid to go on and on about it.
It has a slightly bleak pay off and one which is questionable false, but it’s an affecting ending to the film and whether it actually happened or not isn’t too big an issue. While the direction is decent it’s hardly notable but the performances certainly are, Edward Arnold is superb in the lead role and he went on to play it a second time just five years later in a biopic about Lillian Russell, a film I definitely plan to seek out as Arnold is so memorable here.