The list that follows is based purely on my own tastes and opinions. I thought to create because we always seem to refer to a handful of key Warren William titles over here, so why not make that list a little more official. The movies that follow aren’t even necessarily my own particular Warren William favorites (okay, many are), but hey, that can be a future post. The purpose is to rank the top 10 movies I would recommend, in order, to somebody brand new to the phenomena that is Warren William.
Mind you, most of these movies can’t be found very easily. Very few have had any sort of official DVD release–most won’t–and most of my own copies are just that, DVD-R’s acquired collector to collector through a few years of hunting.
I expect disagreement but hopefully that just leads to more lists in the comments section. And by all means, 10 is a completely arbitrary number, if you want to post your Top 5, Top 3 or even just your #1 recommendation that you think would sell Warren William to a friend or acquaintance then please go ahead, post it.
Here we go, my Top 10 Warren William starter films with commentary below the list:
2. Employees Entrance (1933)
3. The Mouthpiece (1932)
4. Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
5. The Match King (1932)
6. Bedside (1934)
7. The Mind Reader (1933)
8. The Case of the Howling Dog (1934)
9. The Lone Wolf Keeps a Date (1940)
10. Lady for a Day (1933)
I actually prefer Employee’s Entrance to Skyscraper Souls by a pretty good margin now, but that’s the order they were released and that’s the order I came to them and since they’re the tandem which initially sold me on Warren William that’s the way I’d recommend them. They may as well be 1a and 1b. Now those top 2 did each have a VHS release and so I think they’re probably a couple of the more likely films our budding Warren William buff would have seen already. If they have cross them off and make #3 the new #1.
The Mouthpiece was released before everything else on this list and is Warren William’s breakthrough role. It’d be a great starting point itself, but as I said above, I can’t quibble with my own introduction and so The Mouthpiece is #3.
Gold Diggers isn’t #4 so much for it’s Warren Williamness, but as a fun mainstream release which the newbie should likely view at this point just to realize WW isn’t all work, but some play too. Plus they can pick up the DVD right on Amazon or at any other retailer. The Match King is a little uneven, but still excellent in almost every other regard, excepting perhaps Lili Damita, and a good way to prepare our viewer for the shock of what’s to come.
I hesitate to put Bedside and The Mind Reader back to back as it may just be too much for our friend to handle. Then again we’ve eased them in up to this point and this is Warren William after all–if they’re gonna get it then this double-feature may be their favorite stop which totally sends them over the edge looking for more.
Next we introduce them to Perry Mason and we start at the beginning even though I prefer The Case of the Lucky Legs (1935) myself. They’re likely going to skip the rest of the list for now and watch the other 3 WW-Mason films anyway, so why not start them out right.
What I just said about Mason, well forget it for The Lone Wolf. Okay, okay, I’m breaking my own rule for The Lone Wolf Keeps a Date, it’s my favorite of the Lone Wolf movies, the one set in Cuba where Lanyard’s carrying around his stamp collection, but I have a better reason than that. The first Lone Wolf movie starring WW, The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt (1939) is missing the real Jameson, Eric Blore. The second title, The Lone Wolf Strikes (1940) has Jameson but Thurston Hall’s Inspector Crane is missing. All the ingredients are together by the third entry, The Lone Wolf Meets a Lady (1940), but frankly we’ve gone this far into the series so why shouldn’t I pop in the DVD of my favorite for my friend here? Also it’s a particularly fun and hammy performance by Warren William, if they’re enjoying his portrayals so far they’ll get a kick out of this one.
The last choice was my toughest choice. I was tempted to put Outcast (1937) there because Lady for a Day is one of those classics despite Warren William. That said, he does have a large presence in what is really May Robson’s movie, the film is easily obtainable and as good as it’s reputation. It’s perhaps Warren William’s best known role where he comes as close the other pre-code leads on this list. Of course if our pal is already a general fan of classic movies then they’ve already seen this one long ago, either reintroduce it to them from the WW-perspective or pop in Outcast instead.
What do you think? Did I screw up? I purposely left titles like Three on a Match (1932) and Cleopatra (1934) off the list because I don’t think of them as primarily Warren William films. Still, I understand if they make your list. So what would you recommend?
Patricia Nolan-Hall says
A fine list and no real quibbles.
However, I would definitely recommend “Goodbye Again” for a newbie. It’s such a funny movie with a terrific cast and Warren is a hoot!
I would certainly keep your items 1-7 on my list; I can see someone omitting “Gold Diggers of 1933,” since his part isn’t exactly dominating, but it wouldn’t be me–he’s so wonderful in it. As for the rest: I’m not sure I would have picked “The Lone Wolf Keeps a Date” for a Lanyard movie, but your case is irresistible–you HAVE to pick one with Blore, Hall, and Kelsey, and Lanyard’s performance for the thieves over his scattered stamp collection is a highlight of the whole series. As for “The Case of the Howling Dog,” that certainly made me want to see his other Perry Mason movies (it was the first thing I’d ever seen him in), but it was “The Case of the Curious Bride” and “The Case of the Lucky Legs,” which add hilarity to the Mason mix of melodrama and (more or less) legal maneuvering, that really made me want to see more, more, more! If I had to pick one of those for the list, I guess it would be “Curious Bride,” at least at this writing (I have a weakness for Margaret Lindsay, and enjoy Olin Howlin’s bigger part, too). As for “Lady for a Day,” it is, as you say, a fine movie, but not that much of a showcase for WW; in its place I’d second Patricia Nolan-Hall’s recommendation of “Goodbye Again.” (A word for newcomers: I’ll bet all the movies on our lists that aren’t listed on Amazon are now available from Vintage Classic Movies, offering much more convenient one-stop shopping than when you or even I got started on our WW DVD quests.)
I’m not going to try to sequence my entire top 10 list at this sitting, but I think I would see “The Match King,” “The Mind Reader,” and “Bedside” in that order (not necessarily consecutively), tracking a growing studio awareness of the uniqueness of WW’s brand of ruthlessness. Usually when we’re absorbed through the course of a movie by a leading character’s wickedness, what we really want is the satisfaction of seeing that rotten scoundrel finally get what’s coming to him. If we kind-of hope he gets away (as with Fu Manchu, for example), it’s so we can enjoy further adventures in which he sets a worthy challenge for his temporarily-triumphant adversaries. This isn’t the case with WW’s villain-protagonists. It’s often said that we WANT them to get away with it–that’s an overstatement of the way I feel, but I do enjoy seeing just how far they can push it. I think I would suggest more seriously now than I originally did that Jean Muir’s character in “Bedside” is a studio embodiment of what they may have seen as the fan reaction to WW’s evil ways–the more despicably he behaves, the more we love him. I still don’t think Bob should have gotten off scot-free, though–I just would have liked to see WW make more pre-Code movies!
Wow, two votes for “Goodbye, Again,” thanks Patricia and Jeffers–it would have certainly made my Top 15, and it might make my personal favorites Top 10, if I ever do that one.
PS all: Just saw that The Mind Reader is going to get a TCM airing in March, good news for those without other means of access!
Jeffers, I don’t disagree with anything you say regarding Perry Mason, but I did kind of hedge that one into practically a 4-in-1 entry. I’d have done the same for Lone Wolf if it wasn’t for the perfect cast assembling itself later in the series. A goal for this site in 2010 is going to be sitting down for all of the Mason and Lanyard’s again and covering each in more detail. Hopefully I’ll get to it!
I agree with your last line. Warren William’s best movies are such a perfect mix of timing of the Great Depression and lack of enforcement of the code, I guess we’re lucky to have what we’ve got. Still, another few years of them would have been great!
I’m finding his career, while not quite as enjoyable on screen, all the more interesting after that. Warner’s lets him go, MGM and WW don’t mix well together, he attains B-popularity in The Lone Wolf, and then I’ve noticed a literary bent to his late film career. Mix in the radio show (which I promise to get to!) and I’ve come to the conclusion had he lived he likely would have wound up on TV in the 50’s and to take that guess a step further, TV Westerns (maybe a black hat, maybe not).
But Bob was marvelous 🙂
Whenever I catch old black and white TV shows that I remember from childhood, but only now realize were populated by former fixtures of the big screen, I imagine how WW would have fit into that milieu.
“But Bob was marvelous”–that should be my new mantra! Love it.
Great post, Cliff.
My own personal introduction was the Dark Horse, in which he was excellent. It was a good intro to his character “type” in that he was the kind of guy who would play dirty but still be likeable.
TCM has thier March calendar up: Three rare WW titles: Living on Velvet (1935), The Mind Reader (1933) and Upper World (1934). I was so excited to see something on the list besides Lady for a Day or Man in the Iron mask, that I just about jumped out of my chair.
I was waiting for somebody to mention “The Dark Horse.” I guess I owe it another viewing as it wasn’t my favorite first time around, though I was definitely in the minority with that opinion!
Yup, very excited they chose “The Mind Reader.” For “Upperworld,” last I checked someone had it posted on YouTube just in case anyone doesn’t want to wait 3 months!
I just wanted to say welcome to the Classic Movie Blog Association. Congratulations! I’m a member too. I’ve enjoyed reading your articles on Warren Williams. I started just loving him after I saw him in Cleopatra as Caesar (that was when I was a young teen), and have enjoyed him in every movie I could find since. Again, welcome, and I look forward to getting to know you through the Association.
Hey Cliff, Thanks for the tip on Upperworld being on Youtube. I’ll add it to my WW playlist which is pretty tiny.
Sure thing Jenny. I know it was there at one point because I watched in one night after just coming across it. Of course we know a YT presence can be fleeting for classic films, not quite sure what I searched to yield it but I must have been in a WW mood!
Thanks very much, Becky! Just checked out your Classic Becky and Friends and added you to the blogroll here. Going to have some fun and poke around your articles now for awhile.
I agree with the earlier poster Dark Horse is a great one. The Match King is probably my least fave of the WW films (that and Smarty). He is SO unlikable in Match King that I can’t get past is. Even in the bulk of his films where he is a bad guy there is still a likable quality, it just seems to be missing in Match King. Here is my ten.
1. Skyscraper Souls (1932)
2. The Mouthpiece (1932)
3. The Dark Horse (1932)
5.Lady for a Day (1933)
6.Employees Entrance (1933)
7. The Mind Reader (1933)
8. The Case of the Howling Dog (1934)
10. The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt (1939)
I love Beauty and the Boss. I put it in even though it really is Marian Marsh’s show I also love Three On A Match but WW has just a peripheral role in it.
Oops forgot number4 I’d go for Lady for a Day (1933). One of WW rare sympathetic roles.
Great list, Noirkiss3, thanks for contributing it!
We don’t look too different except your dislike of The Match King (How could you! Oh wait, you said how!) and your high Dark Horse ranking.
I agree regarding both Beauty and the Boss and Three on a Match–in fact if I was making a general pre-code list they’d both make it, certainly Three on a Match (probably Top 5 even).
What I like about him in The Match King, and granted, he goes a bit far 🙂 is that as flawed as he is you think this monster might be soothed by love, but as the love story progresses you start to realize that he’s come to consider Lili Damita just another possession. He can’t have it all there.
Thanks again, Cliff
Cliff, I second Becky’s welcome to the Classic Movie Blog Association. I know your blog will be a great addition! As for an intro to Warren William films, I’d add THE DRAGON MURDER CASE. I thought Warren was the cinema’s best Philo Vance, especially in that movie.
Hey Rick29, thanks so much! I just hit the Google follow button on your site and will add you to the blogroll before I log off tonight–looks like some great stuff over there!
John Stangeland says
A little late to the party (only a year), but here are my 10 Warren William films for the newbie:
LADY FOR A DAY
THE MIND READER
CASE OF THE HOWLING DOG
DON’T BET ON BLONDES
LONE WOLF SPY HUNT
THE DARK HORSE
THE MATCH KING
It’s always a chore to decide what to show newcomers first. The trouble with introducing Warren William is divining the attitude of the new viewer. I’ve screened Employees’ Entrance for a few people who hated Kurt Anderson so much that they didn’t like Warren – others found it utterly compelling and thought he was great. It takes a certain temperament to appreciate him in those nasty roles. The Mouthpiece, however, never seems to fail to create an impression. I doubled it with Lady For a Day for 15 friends, and although they all enjoyed LFAD, everyone was bowled over by The Mouthpiece.
BTW – I guess I’m in kind of the minority here – I think WW is GREAT in Lady for a Day. The story clearly focuses on May Robson, but when Warren is on screen, he’s brilliant. (“Hmph. piERRe!”)
I see your point, Cliff, about the Lone Wolf appearances, but I think that the first one probably has Warren’s best (read: most disciplined) performance, and as overall entertainment is the best of the lot. After all, we’re selling the newbie on WW, not Hall and Blore, et al.
Keep up the great work!
I’ve had my most luck with Employees’ Entrance, John, but that may be because I hang around with a pack of fellow Scoundrels!
My only hesitation with moving The Mouthpiece up the list is that the few people I’ve shown it to seem to expect the shocks and it plays a little more cliche than I’d like. Not a fault of the movie, but I suppose time.
You’re probably right on the first Lone Wolf, my problem is I’d have a hard time sitting through that movie with whoever I was showing it to–I love Ida Lupino, but not here. She grates on me more than I could ever imagine for some reason, like fingernails across a blackboard.
Catherine Coyle says
Hello! I run a small FB group for Warren William. I’ve been a fan since 1992. As for all the lists I’ve seen I pretty much agree on them The Perry Mason films were my first introduction to WW’s films. For newbies I would recommend the ones where Warren is the lead or has a good part.