Cast & Crew
Four years ago, Michael Trevor was a promising newspaper man named Jimmie Powers, but because of a scandalous incident, he is no longer able to make a living in the United States. He now runs a scandal sheet in Paris, living on the money he mulcts out of wealthy Americans who conduct secret rendezvous in Paris, but as a gentleman racketeer, Michael refuses to blackmail women. Michael's latest victim is Harold Taylor, the soft coal baron of Pennsylvania. Posing as a novelist, Michael befriends Taylor by suggesting that he prosecute the editor of a scandal sheet who is about to print a story about him and a blonde. Taylor asks Michael to give the editor $2,000 to keep quiet, and Michael pockets the money. He then meets Taylor's charming niece, Mary Kendall, who is in Paris with her suitor, Frank Thompson, whom she does not love. While Frank is in London on business, Mary and Michael fall in love and he confesses his true identity, but promises to reform, and she accepts his proposal. Michael's ex-girl friend, Irene Harper, who helps him run the scandal sheet, was hoping that Michael would swindle Taylor out of enough money for her to post bail for her kid brother in America. When Michael tells her that he and Mary are going to marry, Irene flies into a jealous rage and convinces Michael he will never be allowed to go straight and that marriage to an ex-con would be unfair to Mary. To convince Mary that he was a crook all along, Michael goes to Taylor with a scandalous story about Mary and Michael visiting a notorious inn, and demands $10,000 to keep quiet. Mary, heartbroken, slaps Michael across the face, but agrees to have her uncle write Michael a check. Irene, meanwhile, has tipped off the police, and they politely ask Michael to leave the country. Irene then confesses that she pawned her jewelry to post bail for her brother after she realized Michael really loved Mary. Frank and Mary then sail home to America while Michael and Irene sail to Capetown, South Africa. On the ship's deck, Michael rips up Taylor's check and throws it overboard.
Man of the World -
At the start of the film, Michael (Powell) is in Paris helping out Harry (Guy Kibbee) with a blackmailing incident. Harry has been blackmailed for cheating on his wife back home in the states and as an important businessman, this could hurt him. Michael takes the money from Harry promising that it will lead to the arrest of those involved. Of course, it doesn't. We quickly learn that Michael himself is the perpetrator of the blackmail scheme and, by posing as a detective working with the police, is able to collect the money without detection. Carole Lombard turns out to be Harry's niece, Mary, and Michael falls in love. Aside from the expected complications, Michael is also in a relationship with his blackmail partner Irene, played by Wynne Gibson (who, along with Kibbee, steals most of the movie). Irene wants him out of the relationship, and he wants out of the business altogether.
Powell is as excellent as always, but unfortunately Lombard is a romantic prop for his character, nothing more. Had the producers known what talent she had, perhaps they would have given her the Wynne Gibson role instead, although Gibson is fantastic in the part. The film was written by the legendary Herman J. Mankiewicz, better known as "Mank" to everyone in Hollywood, who by 1931 had already amassed a slew of credits, going back to the silent era. Of course, his most famous screenplay would come exactly ten years later when he coauthored Citizen Kane with Orson Welles.
Man of the World made little to no ripples at the time, but today it stands as a fascinating artifact of the pre-Code era for a couple of reasons. One, because it introduced Powell and Lombard to each other and onscreen as a team, and two, for its absolute punch in the gut ending, not at all what anyone use to Hollywood "boy meets girl" stories would expect. Let's just say, no one ends up happy in the end. And that's one of the lasting achievements of the pre-Code era, coming as it did at the start of the Great Depression. It told things in a straightforward and often blunt manner. Man of the World does that in spades, and while it may not be the best work of Lombard, it's a great early entry in the canon of Mankiewicz, and one of Powell's better early efforts.
Director: Richard Wallace
Screenplay: Herman J. Mankiewicz
Music: Herman Hand
Cinematography: Victor Milner
Sound Department: Harry Lindgren
Costume and Wardrobe Department: Eugene Joseff
Cast: William Powell (Michael Trevor), Carole Lombard (Mary Kendall), Wynne Gibson (Irene Harper), Lawrence Gray (Frank Reynolds), Guy Kibbee (Harry Taylor), George Chandler (Fred)
By Greg Ferrara
Man of the World -
Working titles for this film were Cavalier of the Streets and Gentleman of the Streets. Onscreen credits and most reviews list Richard Wallace as director, however, Motion Picture Herald lists Wallace as co-director with Edward Goodman, whom Motion Picture Almanac lists as dialogue director. According to a January 21, 1931 news item in Variety, Paramount gave Goodman, a New York stage director, his first screen assignment as co-director with Wallace on this film. This was William Powell and Carole Lombard's first film together. They both starred (with Kay Francis) in Paramount's 1931 film Ladies' Man and in the 1936 Universal film My Man Godfrey. They were married in 1931 and divorced in 1933. Motion Picture Herald calls Powell's character "Michael Wagstag," which was used in an early script. Both an early script and the New York Times review mention the fact that Michael tears up the check without Irene knowing he has, but in the print viewed, it is implied that Irene sees the torn check float away on the waves.