Jun 24, 2015
On DVD: Bette Davis and Warren William in The Dark Horse (1932)
In a bit of political maneuvering gone awry, dimwitted Zachary Hicks (Guy Kibbee) is nominated as an unlikely candidate for Governor at a Progressive party convention. The insanity that follows often does not see far removed from the current political landscape. This new release from Warner Archive is like a Frank Capra film with noble sentiment excised, to be replaced with gleeful cynicism.
As Hicks is clearly unlikely to win the election, secretary Kay Russell (Bette Davis) is easily able to convince party leaders that her boyfriend, Hal S. Blake (Warren William) is the campaign manager who can lead them to success. She manages this despite the fact that he needs to be sprung from jail for missing alimony payments.
Blake confidently takes the reigns from Kay once he gains his freedom. He coaches Hicks to a win by working with his idiocy to make him look smarter. With every movement plotted like the script of a play, he approaches politics as a performance.
William and Kibbee are perfectly cast. The pair were members of the consistently reliable stable of Warner Bros players in the pre-code years and they play their familiar character types with confident ease. Buoyed by a sharp script by the famously witty Wilson Mizner and the snappy efficiency of the studio's best early talkies, they fall comfortably in its familiar and consistently successful formula for comedy.
A very young Bette Davis plays what would probably have otherwise been the Joan Blondell role. While Blondell might have brought it a bit more zing, Davis is lots of fun to watch. She isn't the larger-than-life "Bette Davis" yet, but you can see her emerging. The budding actress already has the brisk, proud walk, those sweepingly expressive eyes and her voice is building up to that legendary grandeur.
Often Davis was the flirtatious, sexy and essentially sweet blonde in her early roles; here she is more powerful. Already, she could command a room. While she isn't the center of attention, she has plenty of opportunity to give a preview of what was to come.
This is a happy diversion for fans of the leads, lovers of pre-code movies and those who like their politics with a side of acid.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. This is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.