Among the many splendid things about Turner Classic Movies' annual August extravaganza, "Summer Under The Stars," is that the channel occasionally gives 24 hours of honor to actors who might not have been on the top tier of stardom, but whose work certainly warrants a retrospective. For example, last year not only did TCM honor Carole Lombard, but two of her talented contemporaries as well -- the oft-overlooked Ann Dvorak and the hard-working Joan Blondell.
And it was two years ago that TCM pleased plenty of people (myself included) with 24 hours of Thelma Todd -- someone probably better known for her work in comedy shorts than in features.
This year, you could argue that the most anticipated SUTS day is coming Thursday, when TCM mines its 1930s catalog to give us 24 hours of an actor whose renown has undergone a major boost thanks to the pre-Code revival -- particularly in the past few years. We are referring to Warren William.
Does he look a little devious there? Well, he should; Warners staff photographer Elmer Fryer took that portrait to promote William's 1932 film "The Match King," where he plays a ruthless businessman who causes world havoc before he's done in. And truth be told, that's the type of role he excelled at -- a cad, someone who stops at nothing to get what he wants. Audiences may have rooted against such William characters, but they were almost always fascinated by him.
While Warren William could be as debonair as another Warners player, William Powell, he never possessed the latter's warmth. Powell almost always made himself sympathetic, a trait Warren William largely eschewed...and frankly his characters, such as department store manager Kurt Anderson in "Employees' Entrance" (William is shown below with Loretta Young in that 1933 film), didn't care whether or not you liked him.
William, born Warren William Ketch, was a Minnesota native who served in World War I, pursued a theater career after the war and had some success on the New York stage in the 1920s. With a voice ideal for talking pictures, he signed with Warners in 1931, making 35 films over the next half-decade.
His career in some ways paralleled Dvorak's (he played her husband in "Three On A Match," an atypical sympathetic role): a pre-Code success, a post-Code fade. According to a fine essay on William at TCM's "Movie Morlocks" blog (http://moviemorlocks.com/2012/08/27/warren-william-he-was-an-old-man-even-when-he-was-a-young-man), the turning point was his inability to land the lead role in the 1935 adventure "Captain Blood," a part that turned Errol Flynn into a star. Like Dvorak and Kay Francis, he quarreled with management and was given subpar movies until Jack Warner let him go in 1936. After that, he worked at a variety of studios in all sorts of genres (even westerns); he was the first actor to portray
on screen, although author Erle Stanley Gardner was never fond of the light, Nick Charles-like treatment his characters received in the Warners films (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/218641.html). William also played Philo Vance in the '30s (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/209508.html).
In the 1940s, William moved to Columbia, where he had some success in a detective series called "The Lone Wolf"; he played Michael Lanyard, a reformed jewel thief. William died at age 53 in 1948.
Here's the complete schedule for Thursday:
* 6 a.m. -- "Bedside" (1934)
* 7:15 a.m. -- "The First Hundred Years" (1938)
* 8:30 a.m. -- "Wives Under Suspicion" (1938)
* 9:45 a.m. -- "The Mouthpiece" (1932)
* 11:15 a.m. -- "Skyscraper Souls" (1932)
* 1 p.m. -- "Three On A Match" (1932)
* 2:15 p.m. -- "The Match King" (1932)
* 3:45 p.m. -- "The Mind Reader" (1933)
* 5 p.m. -- "Gold Diggers Of 1933" (1933)
* 6:45 p.m. -- "Times Square Playboy" (1936)
* 8 p.m. -- "Lady For A Day" (1933)
* 9:45 p.m. -- "Cleopatra" (1934)
* 11:45 p.m. -- "Employees Entrance" (1933)
* 1:15 a.m. -- "The Case Of The Howling Dog" (1934)
* 2:45 a.m. -- "The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt" (1939)
* 4 a.m. -- "Arsene Lupin Returns" (1938)
While I haven't seen all the films here, I can recommend "Skyscraper Souls," "Three On A Match" and "The Match King," and I am also told "The Mouthpiece" (about a lawyer) and "The Mind Reader" are prime William cads. The late afternoon and early primetime films show William working in an ensemble (he portrays Julius Caesar in the Cecil B. De Mille-Claudette Colbert "Cleopatra"), while "Employees Entrance" serves as a bridge to detective series stories.
It should be a fun 24 hours; catch as much of it as you can. And perhaps next year, SUTS can honor an actor who, inexplicably, has yet to receive such treatment (although his being a Star of the Month last year may have delayed such an honor until 2013)...William Powell.