This ultra-sophisticated comedy-drama was a success with the critics and the public, and showed John Barrymore in a totally new light. Myrna Loy, who was on loan from MGM, was radiant in her underplaying. Based on a play by Marcel Pagnol, TOPAZE begins as Barrymore, a timid French schoolteacher, attempts to cram some knowledge into his charges at a private...read more
This ultra-sophisticated comedy-drama was a success with the critics and the public, and showed John Barrymore in a totally new light. Myrna Loy, who was on loan from MGM, was radiant in her underplaying. Based on a play by Marcel Pagnol, TOPAZE begins as Barrymore, a timid French
schoolteacher, attempts to cram some knowledge into his charges at a private school. The bane of his existence is Jackie Searle, son of baron Reginald Mason and baroness Jobyna Howland. Mason, who is having an affair with Loy, owns a large chemical company that makes bottled water, which is little
more than tap water in a bright bottle. Fired from the school at the insistence of Howland, Barrymore applies for a job at Mason's company. Mason soon decides that Barrymore is a boob, but since the man does hold a degree, Mason decides to name his sparkling water "Topaze" after the ex-teacher.
The water becomes a success. Barrymore, contentedly experimenting in a huge laboratory, thinks the water they are selling is what he's perfected--a pure concoction totally free of bacteria. When he learns that he's been duped, Barrymore rebels. The metamorphosis of the mouse to the man is slow and
intriguing. Barrymore becomes increasingly confident, changes his manner of dress and speech, and, in the process, becomes attractive to Loy. When Barrymore demands a large piece of the chemical company, Mason has no choice but to give it to him, and Barrymore becomes a tycoon with a staff to do
his bidding. The ultimate irony occurs when Barrymore is invited back to the school from which he was fired and asked to present the award for best student to Searle. Barrymore, no longer cowed by his ex-employer at the school, delivers a stinging speech denouncing favoritism (obviously aimed at
Searle) and gives the award to all of the students. Although the opening classroom sequence takes up nearly 20 minutes of the film's 78 minutes, the revelation of Barrymore's character is so perfectly handled that the scenes never seem stagy or uncinematic. Barrymore had played one grandiose part
after another, so the role here was quite unlike anything audiences had come to expect from him. He demonstrated far more depth here than in his more flamboyant films. This was the second version of Pagnol's play but the first in English. It had been done in 1932 and was made again in 1936 and
1952. The mistress-lover relationship between Loy and Mason was explicit, not hinted at. When the studio attempted to release the film again in 1936, the Breen Office (run by Joseph Breen, the movie censor) refused to give it a certificate because of the lack of moral values in the promiscuous
liaison between Mason and Loy. This 1933 movie, which was a box office hit as well as one of the best films cited by the National Board of Review, was suddenly too hot for the public three years later. TOPAZE is not often seen in revival houses but can sometimes be found on pay cable TV services
in the uncut state. Stay home and watch it.