An entertaining, if highly fictionalized, biography of carpetbagger-turned-millionaire "Jubilee Jim" Fisk, THE TOAST OF NEW YORK gave its star, Edward Arnold, a wonderful opportunity to display his solid acting talents. The film opens in the midst of the Civil War. Arnold travels through
the South, turning a nice profit as a medicine-show impresario. Helping him along are two business partners and friends: Oakie, who sets up an office in the North, and Grant, who remains down South. Taking a greater risk for greater financial gain, Arnold concocts a scheme to smuggle cotton out of
the South and send it North for a magnificent profit. Years later, at the end of the war, he and Grant return to Oakie, with grandiose plans for spending their huge profits. Oakie, however, has invested all the money in Confederate bonds, which are now completely worthless. Not to be defeated,
Arnold decides to use the bonds as a tool to bluff his way out of financial ruin and into big business. After befriending an unscrupulous millionaire (Meek), Arnold and Grant are made directors of the Erie Railroad. From that position, Arnold is able to hook industrial magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt
(played by Kolb) into trying to buy out Erie's stock. Arnold, in order to amass his own personal wealth, simply runs off additional phony stock as needed. (The real-life Jim Fisk was reported to have said, "If this printing press don't break down, I'll be damned if I don't give the old hog
[Vanderbilt] all he wants of Erie.") Kolb keeps on buying, until he finally realizes he's been duped. The fabulously wealthy crooks then leave New York and retreat to the Taylor Hotel in New Jersey, which they fortify and dub "Fort Taylor." While hiding out there, Grant falls in love with Arnold's
mistress (Farmer), a young showgirl. In the meantime, Kolb presses charges against Arnold and the story reaches the newspapers. Eventually this publicity makes Arnold becomes something of a hero--the little man being attacked by the all-powerful magnate. While Grant stays behind the scenes, Arnold
lives the high life, showering Farmer with jewels and fine clothes and even buying her Pike's Opera House. Arnold finally goes too far, however, when he tries to corner the gold market, resulting in the financial disaster known as Black Friday that occurred on September 24, 1869. This causes a
rift between Arnold and Grant, the latter allying with Kolb. When an angry mob--whose members realize Arnold is responsible for their financial ruin--storms Fort Taylor, bullets fly and Arnold lies dead. Grant and Farmer are left free to carry on their romance without fear or guilt.
Budgeted at a hefty $1,072,000, THE TOAST OF NEW YORK didn't show the profit RKO had hoped for and in fact lost more than a half-million dollars. This failure wasn't for lack of talent, however, since the film boasts not only fine work from Arnold, but also the atmospheric direction of Lee, a
script by the talented Dudley Nichols, and a strong cast of leads and supporting players. The role of Fisk was a familiar one for the corpulent Arnold, who was so often cast as a wealthy schemer (as in DIAMOND JIM ) and who inhabits his character here as if born to it. Grant also performs
admirably in a rather commonplace role; his career had just begun to really take off with TOPPER, released one month earlier, and would soon escalate even higher with THE AWFUL TRUTH; BRINGING UP BABY; and HOLIDAY in 1938. Here he manages to bring debonair charm to his character--who, although the
credits are deceptive, is essentially a combination of Fisk's aide and close confidant, Ned Stokes, and his business partner Jay Gould.
Not surprisingly, Hollywood altered other facts of Fisk's celebrated life and death to fit its framework. The film's portrayal of Fisk as a likable, roly-poly socialite is only partly accurate; while he was a well-known backer of theater and opera in New York and flashed his wealth for all to see
and admire, Jubilee Jim was also a ruthless and corrupt businessman who ruined many lives and fortunes in order to enhance his own. THE TOAST OF NEW YORK omits mentioning Fisk's wining and dining of Ulysses S. Grant in the hope of cornering the gold market; his bribery of a White House aide to
obtain information on the gold reserve; or his bribery of countless Tammany Hall officials (including the infamous "Boss" Tweed) to vote in his favor. In addition to his political and financial corruption, Fisk also was an adulterous cheat who deserted his wife for the younger, more beautiful
Josie Mansfield, a divorcee with a past in music halls and brothels. Upon their first meeting, Mansfield and the reportedly irresistible Stokes fell in love. When Fisk learned that he had lost his adored Mansfield, he immediately accused Stokes of embezzlement and brought charges against him.
Later that day, January 6, 1872, after also being indicted for blackmail, Stokes grabbed his revolver and raced to Fisk's hotel, where he gunned down Jubilee Jim. Stokes was later tried for manslaughter and sentenced to six years in Sing Sing. Mansfield, who promised to await his release, soon
left for Europe with a new lover and never again saw Stokes. Farmer, as Mansfield, sings "The First Time I Saw," "Ooh, La, La" (Nathaniel Shilkret, Allie Wrubel), and "Temptation Waltz" (Shilkret, L. Wolfe Gilbert).
Cast & Details See all »
- Rating: NR
- Review: An entertaining, if highly fictionalized, biography of carpetbagger-turned-millionaire "Jubilee Jim" Fisk, THE TOAST OF NEW YORK gave its star, Edward Arnold, a wonderful opportunity to display his solid acting talents. The film opens in the midst of the C… (more)