Rosalind Russell’s second film is not a great one. It has a stuffy, uninteresting script and is sometimes confused by the large mass of characters in the film. You never feel like you get to know many of them and it makes it much more confusing. Russell is billed 12th in this movie, her name lost in a sea of character actors during the credits. She is in three short scenes. This is interesting because she was in about 3 scenes in her previous film, Evelyn Prentice, but billed fourth. However, despite her billing status, she has a great deal more lines in this film and does very well.
She is impressive as a Washington lobbyist’s wife, especially in her second scene, in which she takes full command of the scene and the six other actors in it, stealing the scene from them all.
“The President Vanishes” is about a president who wants to stay out of the war, but with Europe at war, so much of the country (and politicians in Washington) want to get in on it. The president is played by Arthur Byron and at times, I would forget he was actually the president because there are so many characters in the movie. However, this was also due to the fact that this movie is rather rare and so my copy of it has good quality in neither picture nor sound.
A Washington lobbyist is against the idea of war, along with the president, and his wife, Sally (Rosalind Russell) feels the same way. When we first see Roz, she is applying her lipstick in the mirror and making sure she looks “perfect.” When her husband comes into the room, she says to him, “In two minutes, these perfect lips would have been sealed. Where I draw the line, no man comes through.” However, he kisses her anyway and informs her that they will be giving a dinner party that night for five men who “are going to arrange to get America into the war.” When she hears this, her eyes widen and she stops what she’s doing, her face changing from surprise to anger. When she gives the dinner party for the five men, she does most of the talking as she sits at the head of the table like a queen.
In talking to the five men, she charms the pants off of them, talking about their best qualities and talents, although there is poison apparent in her tone. Addressing each of them, she says (always with a smile), ““I live with my husband, Washington’s greatest lobbyist. He brings to my poor table the charm and brains of America—Edward Cullen, who knows more about steel than Midas knew about gold; Barton Drew, our greatest banker, whose bolting vaults would put poor old creases to shame; and dear Roger Grant, who binds 10 million readers with his chain of newspapers; Judge Cochran, defender of the Constitution, lover of liberty, friend of the people… especially the right people.” With that, she says to them, “So you see, gentlemen, why shouldn’t I be wise in the midst of these five greatest of great men?” Before she leaves the room early, she implies that they are eagles circling the sky above Washington. The men start arguing about going to war after she leaves and as the scene dissolves, a cutaway shows a group of six eagles attacking each other.
In order to keep the public’s mind off war, the president stages his own kidnapping, implying it was the fascist group “The Gray Shirts” that are the culprits. A large Washington meeting is the last scene in which we see Roz.
She comes into the room late and sits next to her husband. She tells him there was a mob outside and it was hard to get in. She remarks, ““I feel as if I were sitting on the edge of a volcano,” to which her husband replies, “You are.” It is then announced that the president has vanished and it is almost certain he has been kidnapped. Roz gasps, putting her hand over her mouth, as the president’s wife faints in shock. The scene closes and that’s the last we see of Miss Russell. The rest of the film is not really worth seeing, especially in such bad quality. However, Rosalind Russell is a very interesting part of the cast and worth seeing, if at least for the dinner party scene.
The President Vanishes (1934) on IMDB
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