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Men Are Not Gods (1936)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Men Are Not Gods (1936)
DirectorWalter Reisch
Production CompanyLondon Film Productions
Director of PhotographyCharles Rosher
Scenario/DialogueIris Wright
Scenario/DialogueG.B. Stern
Written byWalter Reisch
Director of PhotographyCharles Rosher

Gertrude Lawrence (Barbara Halford); Sebastian Shaw (Edmond Davey); Miriam Hopkins (Ann Williams); Rex Harrison (Tommy Stapleton); A.E. Matthews (Skeates)

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A theatre critic's secretary is caught up in a love triangle involving the stars of a production of Othello after she is persuaded to alter a review to make it more favourable.

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On the surface, Men Are Not Gods is a contrived, unconvincing and rather silly romantic melodrama, though it has enough points of interest to make it worth more than one of the critic Skeates' dismissals.

The title comes from Othello Act III Scene 4 (printed references are superimposed over Davey's performance), and is referred to twice, underscoring something the female characters believe all too firmly - Ann, Barbara and the fearsome maid Katherine are far more in control of their destinies than murderous adulterer Davey, helpless dreamer Tommy and even Skeates, whose bark is far worse than his bite. Who would pick these as role models?

That aside, Shakespeare references are thin. Davey alludes to the irony of Desdemona being the jealous one, but Ann is hardly Iago: her interventions are entirely accidental. That said, there's a certain pleasure in seeing generous excerpts from what was presumably a typical 1930s stage production, and there's a modicum of visual invention towards the end, with Othello's looming shadow signalling the murderous rage to come.

Other pleasures include the frantic, deadline-driven scenes at the Daily Post and various London locations (Hyde Park, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square, the Savoy) and many of the smaller parts are played with relish: Katherine (Laura Smithson), Skeates (A.E.Matthews) and especially a young Rex Harrison as the lovelorn Tommy, while Val Gielgud, elder brother of the more famous John, turns up at the end as the play's harassed producer.

The three leads are less convincing, though the script is at least as much to blame. As Ann, Miriam Hopkins has to segue from confident professional to ditsy blonde and back again as required - she copes well in a relatively thankless part. Sebastian Shaw as Edmond Davey is a rather better verse speaker than contemporary romantic hero - while Gertrude Lawrence's Barbara, oddly enough, is precisely the other way round.

Appropriately, the music is mostly Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's 'Othello' suite, with occasional incursions from elsewhere - Skeates' enraged return to the Daily Post offices is set to 'Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?' while Ann is heard humming 'Alone' from the previous year's hit A Night at the Opera (US, d. Sam Wood, 1935). The film also features two performances of 'God Save The King', which would have had considerable resonance in a film released at the end of the year of George V's death and Edward VIII's abdication.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. A fateful rewrite (5:34)
2. Othello summary (3:34)
3. Street Shakespeare (3:01)
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