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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Lloyd's of London (Fox Cinema Archives)
Lloyd's of London (Fox Cinema Archives)
Fox Cinema Archives // Unrated // December 3, 2014
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Paul Mavis | posted January 8, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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Who knew insurance agents were so good-looking? 20th Century-Fox's Cinema Archives line of hard-to-find cult and library titles has released Lloyd's of London, the 1936 smash-hit adventure from Fox, directed by studio workhorse Henry King, and starring Freddie Bartholomew, Madeleine Carroll, Sir Guy Standing, Tyrone Power (in his star-making role), C. Aubrey Smith, Virginia Field, Douglas Scott, John Burton, J.M. Kerrigan, Una O'Connor, E.E. Clive, Miles Mander, and George Sanders (in his U.S. debut). Lavishly-mounted hokum revolving around the world-famous insurance market during England's Napoleonic War, Lloyd's of London is the bunk when it comes to its history...and don't worry: I'm not going to spend seven paragraphs outlining its inaccuracies. However, it is a typically smooth, entertaining product from the Hollywood dream factory running at peak efficiency (with a surprisingly emotional subtext). No extras for this nice-looking fullscreen black and white transfer.

A Norfolk fishing village, 1770. Young boy Jonathan Blake (Freddie Bartholomew), overhearing two sailors plotting something in his hated Aunt Blake's (Una O'Connor) ale house, convinces his friend, the wealthy, educated Horatio Nelson (Douglas Scott), to row out with him to the Maggie-O ship to see what the sailors will do. Listening to their plan to scuttle the ship, steal the gold bullion cargo, and report the loss to the Lloyd's insurance market, the boys hightail it off the boat, barely escaping with their lives. Determined to take this information to London, Jonathan can't convince his friend Horatio to go, because the would-be sailor has been tapped by a relative to enter the naval service as a midshipmen. The boys tearfully part, never to see each other again. However, their lives will remain inexorably entwined. When Jonathan arrives at the famed Lloyd's Coffee-House, he eventually finds someone who will listen to this vital information: kindly, paternal John Julius Angerstein (Sir Guy Standing), the head of one of Lloyd's insurance syndicates. Wishing to apprentice to Angerstein, rather than take a monetary reward, Jonathan becomes a regular fixture at Lloyd's, eventually becoming Angerstein's assistant. The young Jonathan (Tyrone Power) is ambitious and smart, and proves it by developing a cross-channel semaphore system that revolutionizes the way Lloyd's gets its information--yet another example of the overall appeal of this handsome go-getter--an appeal which isn't lost on Lloyd's bar wench, Polly (Virginia Field). Working undercover in France, to gauge Napoleon's movements (and thus protect Lloyd's investments), Jonathan, by chance, rescues Lady Elizabeth Stacy (Madeleine Carroll), who was arrested for being English during the Emperor's wartime crackdown. Instantly falling in love with the beauty, he soon finds out she's married to the despicably snobby Lord Everett Stacy (George Sanders), a reprobate with a gambling problem. Unable to win Lady Elizabeth, Jonathan vows to become rich and powerful with his own syndicate. Meanwhile, Horatio, now Lord Nelson of the British fleet, is battling Napoleon's navy, which is successfully choking off British merchant trade by sinking one British ship after another. Will Jonathan be able to stave off mercenary efforts to split Nelson's forces in order to protect shipping, in an ultimate bid to save England?

A staple of afternoon and late, late movie shows when I was growing up in the 1970s (beloved Bill Kennedy, we hardly knew ye...), Lloyd's of London somehow got stuck in my head as a "kids' show," most likely because of the opening reel which focuses on Freddie Bartholomew's adventures with quasi-pirates, as well as his friendship with young Horatio Nelson (watching that beautifully-executed opening section today, it seems quite short compared to my earlier recollections--but it's still key to setting the tone of the movie). Lloyd's of London is now largely noted as the star-making vehicle for 23-year-old Tyrone Power, and yet no doubt at the time of its 1936 premiere, the main draw for audiences (and the studio) was indeed young 11-year-old Bartholomew, an A-lister star who could be routinely counted on to draw millions of ticket buyers to the theaters (he would peak the following year in Metro's Captains Courageous, with Spencer Tracy). Power may have benefited most after Lloyd's of London came out (he seems impossibly assured and accomplished here at a mere 23-years-old--a true "born star"), but going in, audiences were queuing up for Bartholomew--a situation I suspect unchanged, even if the original co-stars of Lloyd's of London had remained.

Various reports have it that director Henry King wasn't exactly pleased when presented with Fox's top tier leading man Don Ameche as the de facto star of his upcoming historical drama. King, more impressed with the panache and confidence of young stage player Power (King had worked with Power's famous actor father...which didn't hurt Ty's chances), repeatedly pushed studio head Darryl Zanuck to assign the complete unknown to headline the expensive prestige project, a prodding to which gambler Zanuck, who trusted the money-making, no-drama contract director King, ultimately agreed. Sensing a chance to build a new romantic idol for his studio (Zanuck knew the talented Ameche was still no match for Metro heart-flutterers like Gable, Taylor, and Montgomery), Power's role in Lloyd's of London was built up, causing assigned female lead Loretta Young to ultimately walk; having a nobody promoted over her must have been taken as an insult to her already-established star status (I suspect, though, that some of Bartholomew's storyline was cut, too, to sooner make way for Power to appear on-screen). Gorgeous and un-complaining Madeleine Carroll was then hired to replace Young, and when it premiered, Lloyd's of London was a smash hit with audiences, confirming Bartholomew's draw while making Power an instant "star."

Watching Lloyd's of London today, I'm struck by the frequent (and quite natural) moments of tenderness that director Henry King manages in this sweeping adventure--an "adventure," ironically, with almost no action scenes--particularly during the early Bartholomew section. Scripted by Ernest Pascal (Wee Willie Winkie, Kidnapped, The Hound of the Baskervilles) and Walter Ferris (Under Two Flags, Heidi), Lloyd's of London's expensive sweep is impressive, with its plush costuming, lavish sets, and "something happening every five minutes" storyline. Somehow, the moviemakers have taken the rather pedestrian-sounding notion that an insurance market is largely responsible for England winning the war against Napoleon, and turned it into an undeniably attractive and entertaining melodrama, filled with intrigue and snappy plot twists. Of course it's all historical hogwash, with Power's character a complete fabrication, and with major fibs flying at the viewer from the left and right (just two examples: no one prematurely reported Nelson winning at the Battle of Trafalgar in order to save British commerce, as Power's character is shown doing; and Lloyd's did indeed insure slavers and their cargo, despite the pointed insert of syndicate head Power distastefully shaking his head at such an offer). But since when did facts get in the way of historical Hollywood moviemaking? To say the script isn't terribly deep in terms of characterization and motivation is an understatement; the chief victim of this is the central romance between Power and Carroll: skimpily set-up like an afterthought, and then strangely sketchy and perfunctory as it plays out.

And yet, director King continually manages to wring-out small-scaled scenes of good humor and warmth. Big laughs come anytime the charmingly lecherous C. Aubrey Smith is convincingly pawing at the delightful, knee-weakening Virginia Field (shouldn't the scripters have made her potential love triangle with Power and Carroll more concrete?), or when George Sanders definitively defines "dismissive snottiness" for the screen. Heartstrings are convincingly tugged during Bartholomew's section. Bartholomew, in his formative scenes at Lloyd's Coffee-House, has wonderful chemistry with the kind, paternalistic Sir Guy Standing (helmer King has Standing hold his gaze on Bartholomew longer than we expect, whenever the boy's obvious need and affection touches him). The prior farewell scene between young Bartholomew and Douglas Scott is beautifully wrought, with just the right amount of boyish notions of maintaining a stiff upper lip mixed in with verge-of-tears sadness. Indeed, that parting scene between fictional hero Jonathan Blake and real-life historical icon Lord Nelson infuses the otherwise light-but-entertaining Lloyd's of London with an underlying sadness--they will never see each other again in the story--that comes to the surface in the movie's surprisingly moving last scene, one that brings the story full circle. SPOILER ALERT! Almost ruined in a scandal involving his lie about Nelson's victory, and only recently recovered from his death bed after Lord Stacy plugs him for sleeping with his wife, Blake looks through his window and down onto the streets, where the victorious Nelson's funeral procession is drawing. Lloyd's of London ends not on the high of Power getting Carroll (as we would expect with a historical romance), or with his vindication in keeping the English merchant fleet insured, thus saving England (as we would expect with a "young man makes world history" melodrama)...but rather on a small, deeply melancholy note as he sadly wishes, "Goodbye, Horatio," to his still-loved childhood friend. It's a quiet, unexpected moment, and one that elevates Lloyd's of London above more ordinary "swashbuckling" historical dramas.

The Video:
The fullscreen, 1.37:1 black and white transfer for Lloyd's of London looks quite good, with decent blacks, steady contrast, few imperfections, and a sharp image.

The Audio:
The Dolby Digital English split mono audio track is clean, with low hiss and a hefty re-recording level. No subtitles or closed-captions available.

The Extras:
No extras for Lloyd's of London.

Final Thoughts:
Entertaining, effective "historical" melodrama. Lloyd's of London's history lesson is total b.s., but who cares? The actors are first-rate, the production sumptuous, and the direction by Henry King surprisingly sensitive to the script's underlying melancholy of boyhood love and friendship lost through the years. I'm highly recommending Lloyd's of London.

Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.

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