Once again, the Warner Archive Collection has unveiled a couple of forgotten titles starring Ronald Colman, the British-born talent who transcended from stage to silents to talkies with the greatest of ease, resulting in three Oscar-nominations during his 40+ career in the world of entertainment. Here, the WAC presents us with two pre-Code rarities ‒ a serious drama and a madcap comedy ‒ both of which are well worth the cost of admission.
Condemned! (1929, United Artists)
Set on the isle of Cayenne ‒ the infamous French penal colony better known as "Devil's Island", from whence Humphrey Bogart would repeatedly escape ‒ Wesley Ruggles' 1929 prison drama Condemned! has been forgotten nearly 90 years after its theatrical debut, but is still quite worthy of your time today. The story finds Ronald Colman as a gentlemanly thief (in one of two roles that year which earned him an Oscar nomination) who is shipped off to everyone's least-favorite New Guinea vacation hot spot with cold-blooded killer Louis Wolheim (The Ship from Shanghai).
Dudley Digges (Alexander Hamilton) is the sadistic warden, who lives to regret giving the passive, non-violent (but still devilishly handsome) Colman the position of "manservant" to his suffering wife (Ann Harding). The great Samuel Goldwyn produced this moving motion picture from future (if posthumous) Oscar-winning screenwriter Sidney Howard (Gone with the Wind). A young William Cameron Menzies (Invaders from Mars, The Maze) served as the art director of this enthralling, obscured, and thoroughly recommended movie.
The Devil to Pay! (1930, United Artists)
Released the same year as Raffles (and featuring several of the same stars), Samuel Goldwyn's The Devil to Pay! once again finds Mr. Ronald Colman as a charming outcast. This time, he's the carefree son of wealthy patriarch Frederick Kerr (Frankenstein), whom he engages in several amusing arguments with throughout, usually to the old codger's subdued delight. But it's the jovial 17-year-old Loretta Young who commands most of the attention here, portraying another victim of high society in jeopardy of marrying a mostly lifeless Paul Cavanaugh.
Fortunately for all, Colman and Young share the same passion for life, making way for a fun pre-Screwball comedy from director George Fitzmaurice. The Thin Man's Myrna Loy (in an early role) plays Colman's (blonde!) gal pal (there's even a wire-haired fox terrier in this one!). David Torrence is Young's father; Florence Britton is Colman's starry-eyed sister; and Frances Dade (who played Lucy Weston in Dracula that same year) has a uncredited cameo in the opening. Funnily enough, she receives one of the best lines in the film as she bids on Colman's bed.
Both of these obscured classics are now available from the Warner Archive Collection as Manufactured-on-Demand releases. Each title is presented in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio from the best surviving elements available. There are no special features included with these forgotten gems, but that doesn't matter with a couple of marvelous pre-Code rarities from the Warner Archive like these. Highly Recommended.