The second in what I hope will be several posts on lost and, now, forgotten films of the Pre-code era. For more information on lost films and film preservation go to the National Film Preservation Foundation
Although he was initially brought to Hollywood in early 1931 to appear in Expensive Women (1931) with Dolores Costello and H.B. Warner, Honor of the Family (1931) will always be recognised as Warren William's first speaking role. In the romantic melodrama based on a play by Balzac, William was cast as the romantic lead Captain Boris Barony, who apparently wowed audiences with his charm, striking good looks and skill when fencing without wearing a shirt. I say 'apparently' because this film is now lost and not available for viewing by modern film audiences. Nevertheless, Honor of the Family provided William's breakout Hollywood performance with many more hits to come, including Under 18 (1931) later that year.
Despite William being undeniably perfect for the role, newspaper articles from the period show that Walter Huston was initially contracted to star in the film. Newspapers, such as, Film Daily reported Huston as appearing in the film from around June 1930 until approximately January, 1931. An example of a press article includes:
"James Ashmore Creelman is writing the adaption and dialogue for 'The Honor of the Family' from the Otis Skinner stage play which First National will use as a vehicle for Walter Huston."
An article in the Evening Independent on December, 15 1930 said Huston would be returning from Europe in January to complete the film. In the resources available, the film's lead is not mentioned from late January until April 24 when William is announced to be leading man:
"Warren William who made his debut on the talking screen by playing opposite Dolores Costello in "Expensive Women" for Warner Bros will play opposite Bebe Daniels in "The Honor of the Family"."
To make things easier, here is a timeline of the making of the film:
- June 17 1930: Walter Huston announced as lead in new film
- July 18 1930: Lenore Coffee assigned to adaption
- January 18 1931: James Ashmore Creelman named as writer
- March 30 1931: Bebe Daniels named as female lead
- April 3 1931: Lloyd Bacon named as director. Film now discussed as a 'Bebe Daniels vehicle' instead of a 'Walter Huston film'
- April 24 1931: Warren William announced as lead
- April 30 1931: "Bebe Daniels leave on the Century today for Hollywood to begin work in "The Honor of the Family" for First National
- May 7 1931 - Pending the beginning of rehearsals of "The Honor of the Family" the next Bebe Daniels vehicle, Warren William, well-known Broadway actor, is lending a hand at the First National dramatic training school, assisting Ivan Simpson."
- May 7 1931 - Margaret Fielding announced as appearing in a "prominent role". She however was not in the final cast.
- May 10 1931 - Dita Parlo has been assigned to First National "The Honor of the Family". It will be her first English speaking role.
- May 14 1931 - "Production has begun at First National studios on "The Honor of the Family", the next Bebe Daniels starring vehicle.
- May 25 1931 - "Blanche Friderici and C. Henry Gordon are late additions to the case of "The Honor of the Family" now in production at the First National studios.
- June 7 1931 - "Honor of the Family" completed.
- July 4 1931 - "The First National production of "Honor of the Family" recently completed at the West Coast studios with Bebe Daniels in the leading role, will be previewed at a theatre near Los Angeles next week. The cutters have finished with the film and it will soon be nationally released. Miss Daniels and her husband, Ben Lyon, are still vacationing in Hawaii. In "Honor of the Family", Warren William, a recent importation from the Broadway stage, will be seen opposite the stage in a role adapted from that which Otis Skinner played for several seasons in the stage version of this play."
- October 17 1931 - Film released.
According to film critics, the film bore little resemblance to the original play. The final cut was seen as a romantic melodrama with a hint of comedy. As Laura, Daniels plays the typical Pre-code role of a 'bad girl' treated sympathetically. She is the mistress/ nurse of a wealthy Hungarian man, Paul Barony (Fredrick Kerr), who is intent on marrying her. His nephew Captain Boris Barony (Williams) sweeps in before plans can be made and pressures Laura into running away. Obeying his uncle’s request, Boris Barony follows her and finds Laura with her lover Tony Revere (Alan Mowbray). Boris Barony tricks her into returning to the castle and gives her an ultimatum. To do as he says or he will destroy his uncle's will in which she is sole beneficiary. Despite their hatred, Laura and Boris Barony start falling for each other. In order to remove Tony, Boris Barony goads him into a duel and kills him. When Boris Barony sends Laura away, Barony begs him to bring her back which he agrees to if Barony gives him money. Paul signs a blank check. Boris Barony stops Laura, who has been driving outside the house in her car. He joins her in the car and they ride away together.
At a little over an hour, the film was jammed packed with action. Although it was not considered a 'serious' film, many critics praised it's entertainment value as well as performances from the two leads. One said, ""don't overlook this naughtiest picture of the month".
"There is a touch of the swashbuckling days of Doug Fairbanks and a bit of the romantic glamour of the handsome Chevalier in Warren William, who plays with gusto the hero role…He is an ardent lover - one of the 'treat 'em rough' variety. And he is mannish enough to satisfy the male customers. He does his fighting with swords and pistols…Bebe Daniels is the incentive in the love scenes to which may be credited some of William's success in that direction, for Miss Daniels is at her best."
"It presents some startlingly interesting characters and succeeds in being melodrama, comedy and romance at the same time."