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Thanks to the kindness of Carrie of Classic Montgomery, I had the opportunity to see THE MAN IN POSSESSION, a delightfully entertaining pre-Code comedy starring Robert Montgomery and Irene Purcell.
The film's London setting is quickly established by a shot of Westminster Abbey under the opening credits, accompanied by the Westminster Chimes. Cambridge-educated Raymond (Montgomery) arrives home from a stint in jail over a "misunderstanding" about the sale of a car. Raymond's mother (Beryl Mercer) greets him with joy, but his crochety father (Sir C. Aubrey Smith) and pompous brother (Reginald Owen) try to bribe Raymond to leave the country before he can do any more harm to the family reputation.
Instead, Raymond secures employment as a bailiff, and his first job is to keep watch over the possessions of lovely Crystal Wetherby (Purcell) until she pays off a writ for bills owed. Crystal has invited her new fiance and his parents to dinner, and Raymond agrees to pose as Crystal's butler so as not to tip off the fiance about her precarious financial condition. After all, when they marry, Crystal's fiance should be able to pay off her bills. You can probably guess who the fiance and parents turn out to be...
The movie is by turns funny, racy, and romantic. Montgomery is in peak form as Raymond; I've seen many of his films in the last year, and this is one of my favorites. It's the kind of amusing, appealing performance which makes one wonder why he isn't better remembered. His slight British accent does tend to fade in and out, but when it fades he sounds just like Robert Montgomery should, so it's not an issue that's especially noticeable.
Irene Purcell appeared in just seven movies, all made in 1931 and 1932. It's a shame her career was so short; she is just right as Crystal, managing to make a woman who regularly stiffs her creditors sympathetic. Purcell, who also acted regularly on Broadway in the '20s and '30s, lived another four decades after retiring from her film career.
The witty script by Sarah Y. Mason (LITTLE WOMEN) and P.G. Wodehouse is based on a play by H.M. Harwood. The superb cast includes Charlotte Greenwood and Alan Mowbray. The combination of the script and the marvelous reactions and double-takes by the polished cast make this film a treat from start to finish..
THE MAN IN POSSESSION runs 84 minutes and is in black and white. It was directed by Sam Wood.
MGM remade the movie just six years later as PERSONAL PROPERTY, starring Robert Taylor and Jean Harlow. It's interesting to note that Reginald Owen and Forrester Harvey reprised their roles from the original film in the remake.
Sadly, this movie isn't available on video or DVD. Click here to indicate interest in a DVD release. The film has been shown in the past on Turner Classic Movies so hopefully it will show up there again in the future.