Cast & Crew
H. B. Warner
The plot is essentially that of the 1923 film, The Green Goddess , q. v.
H. B. Warner
Nigel De Brulier
The Green Goddess
For most of the imports from the stage, all that resulted was extremely stilted acting. Arliss' movies, however, show this was not always the case, especially his first sound film, The Green Goddess (1930). Warner Brothers may have hired him for his elocution; what they got was an actor with forty-four years of experience working an audience with voice and gesture. A strong style, some would even call it hammy, but also quite entertaining.
Arliss had acted in silent versions of Disraeli (1921) and The Green Goddess (1923), both of them from stage plays in which he had starred. To take them to the screen was a bold move for a British actor of his caliber: "We were the actors who appeared before the Best People. Once we stepped down into movies, we should lose prestige and the best people would never again accept us as superior actors." When sound arrived, the Warner Brothers, specifically Harry, went in search of the best and the brightest of the stage to re-create their roles before the Vitaphone camera and microphone. Arliss signed on in 1929 to make talkie versions of the three plays with which he was most often associated, The Green Goddess (1930), Disraeli (1929) and Old English (1930). "My youngest brother shook his head sorrowfully when he heard I was going into the movie-tones. He thought it a great pity that with one stroke of the pen, as it were, I should give up all my high ideals."
So at the age of sixty-one, Arliss arrived in Hollywood to become a movie star. The Green Goddess was the first play to go before the camera. "There was a murder, airplanes, threatening natives, secret wireless, British officers in danger and the lovely lady desired by the wicked Rajah. What more could you ask for?" Director Alfred E. Green, now best known for directing Bette Davis in her Best Actress Oscar performance in Dangerous (1935), was chosen to helm. Alice Joyce, who had played the damsel that attracts the Rajah's eye in the silent version, was brought back to play the same role in the talkie. The studio acceded to some of Arliss' demands, including shooting the movie in sequence to allow him to build his performance. One thing that irked him, however, was the necessity of cutting some of his choice bits. "Unfortunately the scenes that lifted Archer's play above the level of the ordinary melodrama were those that could be most easily cut out without interfering with the action. I think my advisers would admit today that we were a little hasty in cutting the cackle and coming too baldly to the bombs and the airplane."
By the time The Green Goddess was edited, Arliss had already shot Disraeli and, as both Arliss and the Brothers Warner felt the latter was the more lofty film, it was released first. Nevertheless, Arliss received his Oscar nomination for both movies at the 1929-1930 Academy Awards. The award apparently did not mean very much to him. In his autobiography My Ten Years in the Studios (1940), he fails to mention his Oscar® in the list of awards his film roles received.
Now that Arliss' era has completely passed, it is possible to go back and see his performance in The Green Goddess for what it is, a full-tilt but never boring reveling in a deliciously-written villainous role. Despite an acting style from another century, or perhaps because of it, Arliss overcomes the limitations of a filmed stage play made during the early talkie era to show how potent old-fashioned theatrical star power can be.
Director: Alfred E. Green
Screenplay: Julien Josephson, based on the play by William Archer
Cinematography: James Van Trees
Musical director: Louis Silvers
Editing: James Gibbon
Cast: George Arliss (The Rajah of Rukh), Ralph Forbes (Dr. Basil Traherne), H.B. Warner (Major Crespin), Alice Joyce (Lucilla Crespin), Ivan F. Simpson (Watkins), Reggy Sheffield (Lt. Cardew).
by Brian Cady
The Green Goddess
Filmed in 1929 and completed before Disraeli (1929), but was held out of release until later at Arliss' request, because he felt the other film was a better vehicle for his talkie debut.
AMPAS sources note that when George Arliss was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award in 1930, his performances in both this film and Disraeli were under consideration. At the awards ceremony, however, only his Disraeli performance was acknowledged.