The David Manners Film Festival: "The Ruling Voice" and "Crooner"

"You can call me Kit, or
you can call me Franklin,
or you can call me Franklyn,
or you can call me Austin ..."
Of all the actors who appeared in 1930s movies, David Manners (1900-98) was certainly one of them.

Today he is best known for playing the straight man in monster movies like "Dracula," "The Mummy" and "The Black Cat." He was discovered by James Whale, who cast Manners in the gritty 1930 film "Journey's End," a World War I drama based on the stage production that Whale directed.

Most of the time, however, Manners played people with good manners -- upper class boyfriends and fiancees with names like Kit, Franklin, Franklyn, Austin and Eden.

The 1931 film "The Ruling Voice" is a good example -- Manners plays Dick Cheney (!), an aristocratic young man who's in love with Gloria Bannister (Loretta Young). Gloria and Dick have fallen in love in Europe and are now heading home to meet Gloria's father, Jack (Walter Huston). Gloria doesn't know it, but dad is a ruthless racketeer, and in his obsessive collection of protection money he will stop at nothing -- he even knocks really cool toy trucks off of miniature highway bridges right into the path of model trains!

Truthfully, Manners doesn't have much to do in "The Ruling Voice" -- the real love story is between father and daughter. Jack is honest with Gloria about what he does for a living and she doesn't want anything to do with him, leading him to give up his shady dealings and sacrifice himself. So Huston and Young get tense, emotional scenes while Manners spends his time at the shuffleboard court in scenes like this:

In 1932's "Crooner," Manners gets a lot more to do and does it pretty well, showing a flair for light comedy. At a time when velvet-voiced groaners like Bing Crosby, Russ Columbo and Rudy Vallee were topping the charts, Manners plays bandleader Teddy Taylor. He and his musical aggravation -- excuse me, aggregation -- aren't going anywhere until Teddy starts singing and Guy Kibbee, as a guy in the crowd, hands him a megaphone:

Teddy soon becomes as well known as Chipso soap flakes (hey, this is 1932), aided by fast-talking agent Ken Murray and loving girlfriend Ann Dvorak (in a sedate performance that's a far cry from her craziness in "Three on a Match," made the same year). "Crooner" has a great deal of fun lampooning all the hype surrounding these early media-created superstars, and making it clear that most of them, Taylor included, have very little talent. That doesn't, however, keep Teddy from getting a swelled head:

Fame makes Teddy even more insufferable -- he adopts a phony British accent, starts hobnobbing with millionaires and, worst of all, ignores Guy Kibbee when he returns to remind Teddy about giving him his first megaphone! Finally, one evening he takes the stage after a few drinks:

Teddy commits PR Hara-Kari by hitting a handicapped veteran, and his career goes down the tubes, leading him back to Dvorak and a happy ending.

In real life, Manners tired of being stereotyped and left Hollywood in 1936. In later years he did some stage work (including a play with a young Marlon Brando) and wrote several books.

Here are the complete credits for "The Ruling Voice" and a trailer:

Here are the complete credits for "Crooner" and a trailer:   

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