Cast & Crew
John G. Adolfi
Banker Henry Wilton is pleased to be returning to his young second wife, Emmy and his two children, Peggy and Eddie, after spending a year in Europe on national business. To his dismay, there is no one to meet him at the station except his valet. Everyone in his family is busy with their own plans. To make matters worse, Emmy has redecorated his room and thrown out his comfortable old chair. When, after several days, he still hasn't managed to have an evening alone with his family, Henry asks his valet why the poor have such a rich family life and learns that the poor can't afford to go out every night. This inspires Henry to announce that he is ruined. Everyone gives up their plans for the evening, and the family enjoys their time together. When Partington, a business rival who has cheated Henry, learns that Henry is broke, he assumes the stock he holds has lost its value and tries to get rid of it as soon as possible. Henry is able to purchase it at a very low price through a third party. Having revenged himself, Henry reveals to his family that he is not ruined after all. He is delighted to learn that Peggy will not marry priggish George Struthers for his money as she had planned, but will marry Larry Rivers for love. Eddie happily announces that he has gotten a job. Then Henry receives a note from Emmy that leads him to believe she has left him because he is no longer rich. He soon learns, however, that Emmy merely sold her jewelry in order to help him out of his financial difficulties. Now that everyone knows they are still rich, Emmy wonders why they had so much fun when they were poor and Henry reminds her that the poor can't afford to go out every night.
John G. Adolfi
A Successful Calamity
For George Arliss, playing the tycoon in A Successful Calamity was a refreshing change of pace from the "important" historical dramas that were his specialty. But there's nothing grand about Arliss' portrayal in this film, and no sense that he's slumming. On the contrary, he appears to be having a great time. Never overacting, Arliss is a master of understatement rare in early talkies, indicating amusement, disbelief or disappointment with the merest gesture, a raised eyebrow, or a wry smile. The British-born actor had already had a long and distinguished career in the London and New York theater and silent films when he became an unlikely movie star at the age of 61 -- and the first English actor to win an Academy Award -- in his first talkie, Disraeli (1929). It was a role he had previously played on the stage and in a 1921 silent version. Arliss' contract with Warner Bros. gave him control over casting, script, and director, a privilege afforded to few actors. He gave Bette Davis her big break by casting her in The Man Who Played God (1932), and portrayed two more historical figures, Alexander Hamilton (1931) and Voltaire (1933) before moving to 20th-Century-Fox to continue his gallery of great men of history, including two Rothschilds in The House of Rothschild (1934), the Duke of Wellington in The Iron Duke (1934), and Cardinal Richelieu (1935).
Mary Astor, who played Arliss' young wife, was only 25 when she made A Successful Calamity, but she, too was a veteran. Pushed into an acting career by her ambitious parents, she made her film debut at 15, and became a star at 17 when she played opposite John Barrymore in Beau Brummel (1924). For the next few years, Astor was one of the busiest young actresses in Hollywood, and her low, vibrant voice was an asset when talking films arrived. When she made A Successful Calamity, she was recently married and pregnant. It would be her last film before the birth of her daughter, and the latest in a long string of not-very memorable parts. As Astor recalled in her memoir, A Life on Film, "I played secretaries, princesses, the wife of, the girlfriend of...I played many more characters who had things happen to them - reaction characters - than those who did things, who moved the story around." Her role in A Successful Calamity is one of those "reaction characters." Knowing Astor's later career playing predatory sophisticates, one waits in vain for the revelation that she's been dallying with her musical "protégé" while her husband has been away. But her character is only a bored but faithful upper class wife who sees the "calamity" as an opportunity to prove that she's more than just a lovely trophy wife to her older husband.
The second film Astor made after having her baby would finally give her a character that "moved the story around": the faithless wife whose passion for plantation owner Clark Gable leads to near-tragedy in Red Dust (1932). Astor would have too few such juicy parts in her long career, but when she did, she made them memorable - and won a supporting actress Oscar® for one of them, the rapacious concert pianist in The Great Lie (1941).
Playing a small supporting role as the polo-playing suitor of Arliss' daughter in A Successful Calamity is Randolph Scott. It was typecasting for the sporty, polo-playing southern gentleman from North Carolina, who got his break in movies when he met Howard Hughes while playing golf. By the mid-1930s, Scott was playing romantic leads, but it was not until he began making westerns in the late 1940s that he reached the peak of his stardom. In the early 1950s, Scott was one of the top ten box office attractions, and he went on to produce his own films.
As for A Successful Calamity, Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times reported that "its amusing incidents appealed to a Roxy audience." The critic's own opinion was that "It is a light, breezy, improbable tale, which although it hardly affords the English actor any major opportunity, makes a pleasing diversion."
Director: John G. Adolfi
Producer: Lucien Hubbard (uncredited)
Screenplay: adaptation by Maude T. Howell of a play by Clare Kummer
Cinematography: James Van Trees
Editor: Howard Bretherton
Art Direction: Anton Grot
Music: Bernhard Kaun (uncredited)
Cast: George Arliss (Henry Wilton), Mary Astor (Emmy Wilton), Evalyn Knapp (Peggy Wilton), Grant Mitchell (Connors), David Torrence (Partington), William Janney (Eddie Wilton), Hardie Albright (George Struthers), Randolph Scott (Larry), Fortunio Bonanova (Pietro Rafaelo).
by Margarita Landazuri
A Successful Calamity
The play by Clare Kummer originally opened on Broadway at the Booth Theatre on 5 February 1917, and ran for 144 performances before closing for the summer (there was no air conditioning in those days). It then reopened on 10 October 1917 at the Plymouth Theatre. The opening night cast included Katharine Alexander, William Gillette, Estelle Winwood and Roland Young.
William Gillette and Estelle Winwood starred in the stage version of the play.