George Arliss is not impressed. Photo by Gaumont-British/Shutterstock (5870985h)

If you’re burdened with self-serving politicians (are there any other kind?) you know how vexing they can be.

At best, they are expensive and frustrating; at worst, they’re expensive and cruel.

These leaders Lecture and don’t listen, and they invent ridiculous legislation to save the trouble of real-life solutions.

You can see such political leaders at work in The Iron Duke (1934), a film about the aftermath of Napoleon Bonaparte, and politicians’ reactions to his escape from captivity and defeat at Waterloo.

True to Political Form, these leaders hold lots of meetings to Discuss the Situation. There’s talk of payback and the deliberate weakening of the aggressor country, namely, France. These scenes could have been lifted from the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, where European leaders discuss the unconditional surrender of Napoleon (Germany), reparation (Germany), and making sure Napoleon (Germany) can never be that powerful again.

But it’s not Napoleon who is the Star of this Show. Nay, that would be The Iron Duke, the Duke of Wellington, played by George Arliss.

Arliss, who does not possess matinee-idol looks, portrays a brilliant military officer who’s also something of a Ladies’ Man. (“It’s a mystery to me why the Creator wastes his time turning out ugly women,” he says without a trace of irony.)

Even so, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Arliss in this role. He’s a terrific Over-Actor who lends an odd charm and a Legend-in-the-Making quality to Wellington.

We feel conflicted about his performance: Arliss makes himself the centre of every scene, which is not unexpected, and he’s blatantly self-serving about it. Yet, you can’t deny the overall effect is necessary.

Frankly, The Iron Duke needs Arliss to be exactly who he is.

George Arliss, military strategist and ladies’ man.

Here’s how to steal scenes from your fellow actors, using the George Arliss Look-At-Me Method.

First, Arliss is rarely still. Even when he’s just standing or sitting, something about him is always in motion, whether he’s poking another actor in the stomach, fussing with his costume, or waving a sheet of paper. This also lends vitality and energy to his character; as in, the restlessness of a great military leader.

Next, he employs the Age-Old Trick by moving to the back of the set. As he does so, he forces the other actors to turn their faces away from the camera, which directs even more focus towards him.

Finally, Arliss has a Magnificent way of acting with his eyes and eyebrows, and we mean it. He always Studies others and casts shifty glances around himself and, as a result, it’s hard to take your eyes off him. (Well played, Mr. Arliss.)

These methods won’t endear you to your fellow actors, but, if you’re clever enough, your audience won’t notice those louts at all.

After all, why should a supporting cast Muddy the Waters?

Gladys Cooper proves almost more dangerous than Napoleon. Image: Pinterest

According to Wikipedia, The Iron Duke was the ninth most-popular film in Britain at the time.

The first time we saw this movie, years ago, we disliked it. We thought George Arliss was Too Much, and the focus of the film seemed fuzzy. But when we watched it again, we rather enjoyed it, and we’re now sussing out George Arliss movies for binging on a dreary evening.

Is the film historically accurate? We are no history scholar, but we doubt it, and we also doubt the real Duke of Wellington was as amiable as this film portrays. But, such are the bargains we make when we watch movies.

The Iron Duke has beautiful aesthetics, from hair and costumes to the sets. The script is both witty and serious, and it casts a rather jaundiced eye at politicians – except, of course, the one played by the Dramatic George Arliss.

This post is part of The 9th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon, hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts.

The Iron Duke: starring George Arliss, Ellaline Terriss, Gladys Cooper. Directed by Victor Saville. Written by H.M. Harwood and Bess Meredyth. Gaumont-British Picture Corporation, 1934, B&W, 88 mins.

Happily blogging about old movies and using the royal "We".

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