Cast & Crew
John G. Adolfi
Louise Closser Hale
Famous pianist Montgomery Royle is the toast of Paris. He is idolized by his student, twenty-five-year-old Grace Blair, who professes her love for him. He agrees that if she still loves him in six months, he will marry her. At the special request of a king, Monty agrees to give an additional recital, where an anarchist's bomb, meant for the king, destroys Monty's hearing, which is already weakened by a hereditary illness. After their return to New York, Grace begs Monty to continue playing, but he refuses, railing against God for making him deaf. Finally, his sister Florence convinces him to learn lip reading. An old friend, Mildred Miller, suggests that perhaps this is God's first test of Monty's strength. Grace leaves for a visit to Santa Barbara, planning to marry Monty on her return. Completely distraught, Monty tries to jump from his apartment window, but is stopped by his butler, Battle. Trying to interest Monty in the life surrounding him, Battle hands him a pair of binoculars, which Monty uses to read the lips of people walking through Central Park below his window. He learns that a young couple are in trouble because the man has tuberculosis and they do not have enough money for his cure. Monty decides to help them and sends Battle down to offer them the needed money. Meanwhile, in Santa Barbara, Grace has fallen in love with Harold Van Adam, a young man her own age, but she stubbornly intends to go ahead with her plan to marry Monty. During Grace's absence, Monty has regained his faith through his efforts to help the people he sees below. While demonstrating his abilities to Mildred one afternoon, Grace, who has returned from her trip, walks beneath the window with Harold. By reading her lips, Monty learns of her love for Harold, and when she arrives upstairs, he sends her away. At peace, Monty visits the church to examine the organ he has donated. Mildred encourages him to play and he discovers that he can have his music after all.
John G. Adolfi
Louise Closser Hale
General Alexander Ikonikoff
Leo F. Forbstein
Homer Van Pelt
James Van Trees
Jack L. Warner
The Man Who Played God
The story, based on the play The Silent Voice, concerned a brilliant concert pianist who is deafened when a would-be assassin throws a bomb into a European palace where the musician is performing for royalty. Depressed over this sudden end to his career, the musician is brought back from a suicide attempt by his loyal fiancée and the discovery that he can read lips. He soon turns this skill into a philanthropic pastime, helping complete strangers, before performing one last act of kindness toward his young fiancée.
Arliss was already rather old for the role when he made the movie the first time ten years earlier as a silent. And that impression wasn't helped any in this remake by his odd and decidedly non-matinee idol looks and his insistence (despite efforts by Warners make-up artist Perc Westmore) on using the pale foundation and dark lip rouge he had worn in his years on the stage. But at this time, no one was willing to argue with Mr. Arliss. Although his appeal is mystifying to us today and his acting style very outdated and over-the-top, in the early sound years, George Arliss was considered a 'Great Actor,' especially by a studio seeking to add some prestige to its output of low-budget programmers and fast-action gangster films and musicals.
Arliss won an Academy Award in his first sound film as the British prime minister in Disraeli (1929), another picture he had made as a silent in 1921. Apparently, he was right in believing if his public had enjoyed him in some of his best-known silent roles, they would be delighted to hear him perform them anew through the miracle of sound. The same year as his Oscar® for Disraeli, he was also nominated for The Green Goddess (1930), yet another earlier role of his in 1923, and the only instance in Academy history of an actor competing against himself in the same category.
Easy as it may be today to poke fun at this once successful star, not an ugly word was ever spoken about him by Bette Davis. She credited Arliss not only with providing her first big break in films but with showing her the tricks of concentration and character development (and, one suspects, the fearlessness to go over the top) that she would refine over the course of her long career. The New York Times may have dismissed her performance as his young fiancée with the criticism that she "often speaks too rapidly for the microphone," but she earned the highest praise and respect from her veteran co-star, who cast her again in The Working Man (1933).
In his 1940 autobiography, Arliss raved about the "deep and vivid creation" Davis contributed to The Man Who Played God. "She startled me because quite unexpectedly I got from her a flash that illuminated mere words and inspired them with passion and emotion. This is the kind of light that cannot be hidden under a bushel, and I am not in the least surprised that Bette Davis is now the most important star on the screen."
One other noteworthy aspect of The Man Who Played God is its innovative use of sound, not surprising since the movie is about hearing and was made by the studio that pioneered talking pictures. In sequences where the deaf musician is reading lips and the character he's "listening" to turns away from him, the sound department erased the dialogue from the sound track so that the audience is only getting those words the Arliss character is getting through reading lips.
Among the smaller roles be on the lookout for future gossip columnist Hedda Hopper as Alice Chittendon and future star Ray Milland in an uncredited bit as Eddie.
In addition to Arliss's two versions of The Man Who Played God, the film was made before under the original play title The Silent Voice (1915) and refashioned as a vehicle for Liberace, Sincerely Yours (1955).
Director: John G. Adolfi
Producers: Jack L. Warner, Darryl F. Zanuck
Screenplay: Julien Josephson, Maude T. Howell, based on the play The Silent Voice by Jules Eckert Goodman
Cinematography: James Van Trees
Editing: William Holmes
Art Direction: Jack Okey
Original Music: Leo F. Forbstein
Cast: George Arliss (Montgomery Royale), Violet Heming (Mildred Miller), Bette Davis (Grace Blair), Louise Closser Hale (Florence Royale), Donald Cook (Harold Van Adam).
by Rob Nixon
The Man Who Played God
George Arliss and Ivan F. Simpson played the same roles ten years earlier in the 1922 silent version.
Previously, George Arliss had starred in the play and in the 1922 silent version of the play.
The film was released in Britain under the title The Silent Voice because the original title was considered offensive. This was Bette Davis' first role at Warner Bros. In her autobiography, Davis remembers that she was personally chosen by George Arliss to play the role of Grace, although Jack Warner recalls that he sent her to director John G. Adolfi. This film was one of the top moneymaking films of 1932. Modern sources note that Salvatore Santaella played the piano solos for Arliss. Other films based on the same source include a 1915 version entitled The Silent Voice, starring Francis X. Bushman and directed by William J. Bowman (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; F1.4021), and a 1922 version, titled The Man Who Played God and also starring Arliss and directed by Harom Weight (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.3435). Warner Bros. remade the film in 1955 as Sincerely Yours, directed by Gordon Douglas, written by Irving Wallace and starring Liberace as the pianist.