Saturday, September 12, 2020

‘The Toast of New York’ 1937

For Frances Farmer, this film turned out to be her last chance for movie stardom.

The Toast of New York has a timely topic, The Gilded Age, with its money men and their ill-gotten millions. While the real Jim Fisk pulled off some shady business shenanigans, I'm sure they weren't the slapstick moves as played here.
Edward Arnold as Jim Fisk & Cary Grant as "Nick Boyd," a composite character, team up.

The fault of this movie lies not in its stars but in the lies of a cartoonish script. At times, Edward Arnold’s Jim Fisk comes off like a portly Wile E. Coyote in the way he carries out his financial schemes. Movies back then played fast and loose with the facts. But I’ve never seen a film that begins with a disclaimer that only some of the names are true and the rest is fiction!
Edward Arnold played many powerful men in his career as star character actor.

The true interest of The Toast of New York is the three stars, at various stages of their careers. Edward Arnold was then a star character actor, but I doubt he was paid 10,000 dollars a week to make Toast, which has been repeated on the Internet. That’s what Clark Gable made at his career peak, for Gone with the Wind!
It’s appropriate that Edward Arnold played financial finagler Jim Fiske, as he would play another big spender, Diamond Jim Brady, twice. Then too, his character from Come and Get It was cut from the same larger than life cloth. Arnold often played powerful authority figures where he's all hearty exterior charm, but with a steely glint in his eyes.
A toast to the talent, intelligence, spirit, and beauty of Frances Farmer.

As for Frances Farmer, this was her last shot at big screen stardom. Unfortunately, as Josie Mansfield, all the interesting facets have been softened from this scheming beauty.  BTW, the real life Josie looked like John Belushi’s imitation of Elizabeth Taylor Warner while eating fried chicken.
What’s left is a typical ingénue who is unfairly thought of as a gold digger. This whitewash bothered Farmer, but she had no say. Frances does her best, looks gorgeous, and sings prettily, but that’s about it. The real life Josie and “Nick” attempted to blackmail Jim with his letters, who then sued them. And it was Nick who shot Jim, not some disgruntled man from an angry mob.
Frances Farmer as stage star Josie Mansfield.

As with “Aura Lee” in Come and Get It, Frances did her own singing again, in The Toast of New York. “The First Time I Saw You” is made intriguing by Farmer’s husky voice. Farmer always looked china doll lovely in period costumes. As stage star Josie Mansfield, she also gets to perform a montage of the deadly sins, in a variety of exotic getups. Yet, aside from a few spirited remarks that indicate her intelligence, she often just worriedly exclaims, "Oh, Jim!"
Edward Arnold as Jim Fisk meets future obsession, Frances Farmer's Josie Mansfield.

Arnold and Farmer basically repeat their roles from Come and Get It. Arnold plays grasping self-made men that want to possess Farmer’s unattainable women in both. Grant basically plays the Joel McCrea role here, as the young upstart who comes in between them.
Cary Grant, on the cusp of stardom.

Cary Grant appears here in one of his few period films, on the very brink of stardom. After working his way up for five years, 1937 would be Cary’s breakout year, with Topper and The Awful Truth. While Grant is solid as the one outright fictionalized character of the trio, “Nick Boyd,” Cary doesn’t rise above the stock character. That’s because, like Farmer’s Josie, Cary’s character has been cleaned up to the point of dullness. Boyd is a composite of Jay Gould, who teamed up with Fisk for a number of business schemes, and Edward ‘Ned’ Stokes, a later business associate who fell in love with Josie and then shot Fisk.
This opening disclaimer that only the names and general historical background are real!

The Toast of New York is lovely to look at and worth watching for the three stars. If you’re watching for any facts about these real life characters or even a deep drama, this movie doesn’t rate raising a glass.
FYI: I put all the movie overflow on my public FB  movie page. 
The real triangle that was 'Toast': Jim Fisk, Josie Mansfield, and 'Ned' Stokes

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