The Golden Arrow
d. Samuel Bischoff / USA / 1936 / 68 mins
Viewed on: Turner Classic Movies (UK)
When I sat down to watch The Golden Arrow, it did seem, for a time, that it had started with the second reel. I suppose, maybe, this was no big thing for a film made in the days when you would often walk into a picture theatre running continuous shows, but something told me it was part of a much larger problem.
Indeed, it is only when Davis first appears that any cohesion arrives on screen in this rather muddled wedge of high society manners and low society slumming. And even then, it takes a full half hour of its sixty-eight minute running time before the ‘real’ story kicks in, with less of a ‘penny-drop’ and more of a shuddering clunk.
Bette Davis plays Daisy Appleby, apparent heir to the Appleby Facial Creams fortune. George Brent is opposite her as Johnny Jones, a hack reporter assigned with landing an interview with the elusive dame. Johnny gets the interview, and he gets the girl, with Appleby proposing a marriage of convenience in order to free her from the cads chasing her money and allow him the time to indulge his desire to write a novel. You can probably guess the rest, I’m sure.
Although it threatens a few times to break into something resembling a good film, I’m afraid this ones a bit of a stinker. Everyone seems to be going through the motions, especially the writers and the director. Davis tries to impose her usual whirlwind best, and George Brent is competent enough under the circumstances, but neither really have much to work with.
In actual fact, Davis was not happy with the film at all, taking particular exception to the fact that – despite dismal audience testing – it was rush-released to capitalise on her Oscar success for Dangerous (1935). She also remarked that in her memoir that The Golden Arrow was ‘the beginning of the end, temporarily, of my contract with Warner Bros’, adding that she was ‘actually insulted to have to appear in such a cheap, nothing story as The Golden Arrow after Of Human Bondage, The Petrified Forest, and Bordertown’.
The Golden Arrow does have its moments, however. The theme-park ride is wonderfully shot, inducing the giddyness of these older fairground rides in a way that perhaps only a similar scene in Les quatre cents coups has done since. The tennis ball incident, which leads to the film’s decisive contrivance, is quite amusing, although I can’t say I ever thought I’d see Bette Davis hit with a tennis ball.
In fact, the first spark of life in this dead duck comes in the penultimate scene, when Johnny – with Davis over his shoulder – socks one suit, and then another, on his way out to a taxi. As good as it is though, it can’t paper over a trivial ending to a trivial film.