John Galswortnhy’s 1922 play Loyalties includes one of the more interesting twenties portrayals of an ex-soldier.
Captain Ronald Dancey has most of the military virtues – dash, courage, resolution – but has not done well in the peacetime world. The play brings him into conflict with Ferdinand de Levis, rich and successful in everything he does, and Jewish. After a Newmarket race meeting where de Levis has done very well, both are staying at a country house, when a thousand pounds goes missing from de Levis’s room. De Levis accuses Dancey of being a thief, and things get nasty.
I’ve just got hold of a DVD of the 1933 film adaptation, directed by Basil Dean, which does a good enough job of presenting the piece. (Warning: The following description contains spoilers.)
The film opens out the action a little, and shows court scenes that are only reported in the play, but stays true to the original.
Miles Mander and Basil Rathbone
Basil Rathbone gives a very good performance as de Frietas, a man of rather uncomfortable rectitude, sticking up for his rights. He is conscious of not fitting in with the county set he has joined, but refuses to make compromises, calling in the police to his host’s home, and making accusations that are less than tactful. He sometimes indicates otherness with a (presumably Oriental) sinuous movement of his arms that is quite unlike the stolid movements of his English hosts.
Miles Mander plays Captain Dancey, a public-school chap who does not know what to do with himself now that the War is over, and is going to seed. He thinks he is thoroughly justified in taking money, which (since it comes from the sale of a horse he once owned) he thinks is morally his.
The trope of the gentleman thief stealing from wealthy Jews is a common one in post-war fiction (see my Gentleman Crooks paper) , but Galsworthy wants us to question the anti-Semitic assumptions found in the average thriller. De Levis is not likeable, but he is right, and he pursues justice, at the cost of ever again being accepted in the closely loyal society of clubland. Perhaps Galsworthy was thinking of The Merchant of Venice; de Levis is as intransigent about his rights as Shylock, though not bloodthirsty. When the affair ends in tragedy, he will be blamed. The county set look with more disfavour on his challenge to their complacency than on Dancey’s crime.
Where Galsworthy fails, I think,. is in loading the cards against Dancey rather more than he needs to. At the end it is revealed that Dancey stole the money to pay off the father of a girl he had compromised. So he is exposed as a cad, and not the gentleman he is assumed to be. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting if he’d stolen it to pay off his old mother’s mortgage, or to help out an ex-comrade? The morality then would have been more interestingly complicated.
The film is part of Ealing Studios Rarities Volume 12 . It’s a good enough print, but the sound could be better. Also in the two-disc set are Three Men in a Boat (1933), a 1936 film of Priestley’s Laburnum Grove, directed by Carol Reed, and The Bailiffs (1932) a short starring Bud Flanagan and Chesney Allen. Of these I have only seen The Bailiffs so far. Bud, of course, is wonderful, but the script is lamentable.