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MP John Chilcote is addicted to drugs and its made his already unpleasant personality more so. When he lets down his party in Parliament by botching an important speech he walks out into a London fog and bumps into his identical cousin John Loder. When life - including a clinging mistress, a discarded wife, his demanding party bosses and his responsibilities as a gentleman - close in on him he chucks it all and finds his cousin in order to hide out in a drunken stupor. When his faithful servant follows him, the servant hits on the idea of Loder impersonating Chilcote until the latter can get his act together. Loder does, and gets emotionally entangled with Mrs. Chilcote and the mistress.Written by
Ron Kerrigan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I consider myself fortunate to finally get to see The Masquerader for the first time in about forty years. Ronald Colman's dual performance as a dissolute Member of Parliament and his lookalike writer cousin still holds up well.
Finding out that the basis for the film version, a second version I might add of this film was a 1904 novel knocked certain notions from my head. I do think that the modern crisis alluded to in the film is based on the General Strike that Great Britain was undergoing in 1926. It would not surprise me if newsreels of the period were incorporated into the film. In real life however Stanley Baldwin's government was not toppled, in fact most historians give him great kudos for his handling of the crisis.
As the story opens party members are looking to promising young MP Colman for some brilliant oratory that will topple the existing government which is unable to cope with a domestic crisis. Greatness calls but Colman is not answering. He's become alcohol and drug dependent with the demands of public life coming on top of a bad domestic situation with both wife Elissa Landi and mistress Juliette Compton making his private life hell as well.
A passing run in that Colman has with his lookalike cousin gives butler Halliwell Hobbes an idea. Cousin Colman substitutes for the MP and does rally the party and becomes the toast of the nation. The cousin also has to do some fast thinking on his feet as far as the wife and mistress are concerned.
I think the character of the MP is based on Lord Randolph Churchill who for reasons of his own dissolute enjoyment of the vices took a rapid tumble in a brilliant career to be. His son certainly fulfilled the promise that that father had. As for the film itself I venture to say that the lookalike substitution may have its inspiration from The Man In The Iron Mask. And if you think about the MGM comedy Callaway Went Thataway has a very similar plot development. Of course that one was played strictly laughs and laughs are very few in The Masquerader.
Ronald Colman was nothing short of brilliant here, excelling in both roles. Kudos should also be given to Halliwell Hobbes who played many butlers in his career, but was never better here. In the end Hobbes is entrusted with a secret that could involve the history of the realm itself.
Ronald Colman is better known for playing that other dual role in The Prisoner Of Zenda. He may very well have been cast in that part by David O. Selznick on the strength of what he did here in The Masquerader.
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