The Match King, 1932. 6/10

Warren William stars in a Roaring Twenties crime drama as Paul Kroll, based on the story an actual rags-to-riches business mogul and swindler. Pretty cool to zero in on ’30s Chicago Cubs game. The trash collectors are put upon. “So the Swede’s gone to the ballgame, huh?” Oscar (Spencer Charters) is fired but Paul figures he can rake in his pay. That little scheme soon mushrooms, thanks to Foreman’s (John Ray’s) tutelage. Meanwhile, Paul’s putting the make on his ‘babe’, Babe (Glenda Farrell).

Paul gets a letter from Uncle Gustav (Oscar Apfel), in the old country. Babe thinks she’s going to run off with him; instead, he runs off with the grafted loot. Back in Sweden, he’s got plenty of ideas for expanding the match company. Erik (Hardie Albright) is suspicious, knowing that Paul is all bluster, and has no collateral, but he gets on board anyway. Soon Paul has a monopoly in the Swedish match business. “I want to create worldwide propaganda” that is, the superstition that it’s bad luck to use a match to light more than three things. At least he’s not going to cut back on quality.

Meanwhile, Sonia (Juliette Compton) badgers him to hang around more. Well, where did she come from? He’s so histrionic, like the world’s going to end unless he gets his way; all of this delivered with pomposity. Now he’s trying to take over the Polish match business, with bribery. It turns out that Sonia has a backdoor to a leading minister in the Polish government.

Another cool touch: the tri-motor aircraft Paul uses to get around (and even zepellens at one airfield). Erik is panicking because Germany’s economy is going down, but, of course, Paul finds a way to profit from that too. At a swanky club with Ilse (Claire Dodd), he spies Marta (Lili Darnita). That’s the fourth woman he’s got his glue hooks into. Later that night, he’s got everything set for her, but Marta actually stands him up.

Undeterred, of course, he finds her in Salzburg. Weirdly, she takes him hiking, in a thunderstorm, no less. He’s met his match (really) with the Match King. I don’t see the point of her obsessing about what record she plays. I see, the composer of her favorite tune was hired by Paul to play for her. She’s smitten “I’ve never been so happy.” Yeah, just wait.

Back in Stockholm, in the business world, Erik has to handle all the problems. All that Paul seems to care about is another sentimental thing for Marta. At last back home, he confides in Erik that his business is an elaborate con-game. Nyberg (Murray Kinnell) has an idea; there’s a strange interlude to a remote lab and odd scientist, Hobe (Harry Beresford). He’s created the “everylasting match” (it’s re-lightable).

Meanwhile, Marta has a movie contract, so she’s off to Hollywood. No time for distractions, anyway; sensing that Hobe will be in the way, Paul manages to have him committed to an asylum. The stock market crash occurs. Paul comes up with a counter-intuitive idea of paying divedends, but the Bank of Sweden won’t renew any loans. In fact, in thirty days, unless he comes up with the money, Paul’s toast. “Don’t worry, Erik, I’ll take care of it” he says. How’s that?

By way of another clandestine deal, with Italian Scarlatti (Harold Huber). Counterfeiting’s the game this time. Thanks to Paul’s adept handling of his double-cowled speedboat, he finds an opportune moment to hurl Scarlatti into the drink–the fjord? Paul’s headed back to the U.S., and gets an enormous loan, based, no doubt, on the counterfeit Italian cash. Even better, Marta shows up, on time as well. Problem is, she’s in love with the composer from Salzburg.

Paul feigns to be happy for her…well, at least he tells her so. Fittingly, he strikes a match to light a cigarette. Wait, Paul, what’s the big deal? What about Babe, Sonia, and Ilse? Well, back in Sweden, the financial news isn’t great either: representatives from half a dozen countries are ready to pounce on him, for forgery, of all things. He can’t get away with anything else, anymore.

We get one of those life-flashing-before-his-eyes deals. Meaning, which window will he jump out of? I’m wrong, he shoots himself. And, splayed out on the floor, an epilogue, presumably from Erik.

The true-crime expose premise doesn’t work so well as a drama. The historical references, regarding the Depression and World War I particularly, were interesting, and the Swedish/assorted European backgrounds put the film in a convincingly authentic context. Otherwise, though, we’ve got a very predictable plot, and hardly any memorable characters. Even Paul remains an enigma–why was he on-the-make in the first place? Marta’s probably the most interesting one here; she’s the only one who really stands up to Paul, and she gets away with it.

Like her, the other women are very attractive, but they appear and disappear much too quickly. The other guys, even Erik, are two-dimensional. Part of the problem is that this a complex story (of financial manipulation, personal life, the world monetary situation) all stuffed into one congested plot. As a result, so many events happen so quickly that it’s difficult to keep track of which country is doing what, or which woman he’s now interested in.

With a speedboat, plenty of tri-motors, limousines, and even a zeppellin, Farmermouse squeeked that he’ll be in mouse-heaven playing with all those toys. Six matchsticks. 6/10.

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