"The Match King" is possibly one of the best examples of WB's "torn from the headlines" film making policy and factory style production. It was based on the life of Ivan Kreuger, a Swedish industrialist who at some stage controlled most of the world's match production. Kreuger killed himself on 12 March 1932 after his financial empire collapsed. On 31 December 1932, the film opened. Just over 9 months - I was left wondering if it was a record...
In the film, Kreuger becomes Paul Kroll, a very unscrupulous business man and a swindler. Warren William is possibly the only actor in the 1930s who could do oily and charming at the same time, and here, like in earlier "Skyscrapers' Souls" and later "Employees' Entrance" (my favourite of the three, I should add), he excels. In fact, the three films seem to almost form a trilogy of Pre-code Great Business critique that resonates oh so well today. The film is very much centred around his leading man. William has most of the on-screen time and it is really his performance that carries the film through. These three films should have been released long ago as part of the "Forbidden Hollywood" DVD series which WB seems to have either killed or put on hold for the foreseable future (which is a pity since I absolutely loved it).
The women in Kroll's life are many but the actresses are not household names, and to be honest I didn't recognised any of their faces. Most of them weren't memorable or lasted particularly long onscreen. There were two exceptions. One was Glenda Farrell, in her bit part days, who I obviously recognised from her later films. The second was Lili Damita, a French actress who finished her film career by 1937, who managed to be the great love of the Match King. However, the performance was dull and uninspired, and I suspect I won't remember her face for long. The only other main cast members I recognised were Hardie Albright, who played the lemon faced boyfriend of Claudette Colbert in "Three-Cornered Moon" and Harold Huber, as Scarlatti, who appeared towards the end of the film. On a blink-and-you'll-miss-them note, Alan Hale appears in one scene.
The film's pace is fast, as you'd come to expect from a Pre-code WB film. This is a bit uneven, as the story unravels too quickly at times and too slow at others (the love story), focusing too much at some stage in the romantic aspect rather than the main story line. Of course, at speed these films were made, the scripts were seldom polished and here it clearly shows, which is a pity.
I was lucky enough to see the film in beautiful new print taken from the original negative by the Library of Congress during the London Film Festival. I sincerely hope more people get that chance soon.