Lloyd’s of London (1936)
A buddy of mine works in the insurance biz in London and spends a good part of each day at Lloyd’s. So naturally when I came across this movie I had to write about it!
And that was before I read Turner Classic Movie’s magnificent one-sentence synopsis of the film: “A young man’s love for a married woman leads him to help found an insurance company.” What a cliché, right? (That might be my favorite synopsis of all time.)
As you may be able to tell from that brief plot summary, this movie is an odd one. It’s an amusing mix of history and fantasy that also functions as a commercial for the titular insurance market. The film ties up the health of Lloyd’s with the health of the British nation, and also conflates the market’s growth with the growth of the Empire. That isn’t necessarily untrue, but it’s certainly simplified for dramatic effect in this film. Plus, the Battle of Trafalgar is given an entirely new, entirely fictional backdrop.
That kind of modified history in an ostensibly historically-based movie isn’t unusual. As I’ve written about in my History Through Hollywood series, classic Hollywood wasn’t that concerned with historical accuracy. It’s not that they tried and failed, but more that the historical “truth” wasn’t always a priority. So the Harvey girls have weirdly 1940s hairstyles and are remarkably clean for pioneers, and Calamity Jane is a gorgeous blonde who enjoys a happy-ever-after with Wild Bill Hickok.
Studios sometimes made an effort to get things right; they had Research Departments that fielded questions from the Set, Prop, Costume, Story, and assorted other departments. For example, MGM’s enormous Research Department was housed in four buildings and contained 20,000 books and 250,000 clippings all neatly cross-referenced on 80,000 index cards. The department could answer 500 questions a day at its peak.
Enjoy this article about Fox’s Research Department, which references Lloyd’s of London (the researchers were tasked with finding out which arm Lord Nelson lost in battle, among other things) and One in a Million. It also includes example questions handled by the researchers, and the charmingly inappropriate term “movie boners” when today we would say “goofs.”
But sometimes verisimilitude was deemed less important than a dramatic storyline or visual element. One of my favorite instances of this came during the production of Marie Antoinette (1938). MGM took hundreds of photographs and performed meticulous research about the real Versailles before they built sets on the backlot. But the designers ended up making changes to the palace for various reasons; for instance, many of the moldings in Versailles were actually too delicate to show up well on film, so the set designers bulked them up. More drastic changes were made, too, like the addition of an enormous staircase to create a more imposing hall–apparently even Versailles wasn’t grand enough for an MGM film!
Fox did seem desirous of at least appearing to have done their homework; this acknowledgement appears at the beginning of the movie:
Despite that, don’t be surprised when Lloyd’s of London takes some pretty extreme liberties with history in the interest of drama. Just enjoy the confused ride!
The script was written by Ernest Pascal and Walter Ferris from a story by Curtis Kenyon. As TCM notes in its article on the movie, “it is pure Hollywood of the 1930s, mixing historical fact and total fiction, and somehow making the insurance business appear interesting.”
Besides being one of the few classic Hollywood films about a British insurance market, this movie is also noteworthy because it features Tyrone Power in his first starring role.
He wasn’t a big deal at the time, as you can see from his billing: he comes in fourth with the child actor Freddie Bartholomew, Madeleine Caroll, and Sir Guy Standing ranking above him. But this was the last time he would receive less than star billing. After this movie, he rocketed to matinee idol stardom.
Power was descended from a family of actors going back to his great-grandfather. He first joined the “family business” after high school in 1931, but for five years he gained little traction.
He came to Hollywood in 1936 and got a contract as a bit player at Fox. He had small roles (he played a Count in both films!) in Girls’ Dormitory (1936) and Ladies in Love (1936), but he was still waiting for his big break when he approached director Henry King about Lloyd’s of London. Power probably would have been thrilled with a smallish role, but King decided to test him for the lead in this movie.
This was a leap of faith by King, especially because Power had been fired from a small part in Sing, Baby, Sing (1936) just the previous week. But when King met Power he was taken with the young actor’s poise, and perhaps he felt a special affinity for him since King had worked with Power’s father, the well-known actor Tyrone Power, Sr., on Hell Harbor (1930). (Power was billed as Tyrone Power, Jr., until he made this movie.)
Don Ameche, who by this point was an established star at Fox, was also up for the lead in this movie, but King was impressed by Power’s screen test. He asked Fox producer Darryl Zanuck to take a look, and rather amazingly, Zanuck gave the role to the unknown 23-year-old despite the opposition of other Fox executives who preferred Ameche.
Fun fact: this was just the beginning for Henry King and Tyrone Power. King would direct Power in ten films with the last coming two decades later in 1957.
As is typical, the casting for this film was neither pre-ordained nor simple, and not just because of Power. Originally, Loretta Young was assigned to the female lead. But she pulled out of the movie when she saw that her role was being reduced as the studio focused more on Power.
After Young wrote Fox a letter in which she refused the part and then missed two wardrobe fittings for the movie, Zanuck began to battle with her lawyer. He wrote this nasty yet veiled letter:
Doesn’t it seem peculiar to you that anyone, after receiving the treatment that she has received, after receiving the roles that we have given her in her last three productions, after accepting the lenient working conditions that we have given her, could now suddenly decide that she no longer desired to discuss production matters with us? I am frank to say that the entire situation bewilders me, and so, as before stated, I can only come to the conclusion that someone is giving her bad advice, as certainly nothing has been done by us which in any manner or form justifies her present attitude or her refusal to play in our production Lloyd’s of London, or any attitude except absolute cooperation or unquestioning compliance with our every request.
That last line smells of blackmail, especially because the “leniency” that Zanuck mentions is most likely a reference to Young’s secret pregnancy with Clark Gable’s child. Young (who later claimed she was date-raped by the star during the production of The Call of the Wild (1935)), kept her pregnancy hidden, gave birth to her daughter in November 1935, then had the child dropped off at an orphanage who cooperated in the “adoption” by Young over a year later. The truth of the baby’s parentage was a rumor in Hollywood for years but was only verified recently. You can read more about it here.
(If that sounds familiar, it’s because the recent movie Hail, Caesar! used the storyline for its Esther Williams-type swimming star played by Scarlett Johansson. You can read more about that (and other Old Hollywood scandals) in my post on Hail, Caesar!.)
Young was a big enough star in 1935-36 that Fox cooperated with her during the pregnancy. This was in the studio’s interest, too, as it would have been a huge scandal that could have ruined Young and therefore deprived Fox of a star. But Zanuck’s reference to “leniency” and the lines about expecting nothing less than “absolute cooperation or unquestioning compliance with our every request” is a bit nasty, especially because the studio could have very easily leaked the truth about Young.
But despite this letter and veiled threat, Zanuck and Fox didn’t actually force Young to play the part, nor did they “ruin” her. She was too big a star to destroy; far better to compromise on Lloyd’s of London than to lose her. So Zanuck backed down and gave the part to Madeleine Carroll. (Young went on to enjoy a long career in Hollywood.)
Carroll was a British-born actress who is perhaps best known for playing the first of Alfred Hitchcock’s “icy blondes” in The 39 Steps (1935). She was a popular star in the mid-1930s, and in 1938 she was the highest paid actress in the world. So replacing Young with Carroll was not a downgrade.
George Sanders completed the love triangle as Carroll’s husband. This was his first American movie, and Fox had to borrow him from the British and Dominions Film Corporation to play the role. He would go on to become a popular “cad” and likable villain in Hollywood movies like Rebecca (1940), Foreign Correspondent (1940), and All About Eve (1950). He also starred as the romantic criminal Simon Templar in five Saint films from 1939-1941.
To the film! It begins in a small fishing village in Norfolk in 1770. A small boy named Jonathan Blake (Freddie Bartholomew) works at his aunt’s dingy pub. You may recognize the aunt, played by Una O’Connor, from The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) or Christmas in Connecticut (1945).
Fun fact: Freddie Bartholomew was a big star in 1936, which is why he receives top billing despite not having that much screen time. He had won acclaim and stardom for his work in David Copperfield (1935) and Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936), though his most famous role was still to come in Captains Courageous (1937) with Spencer Tracy.
Jonathan overhears two shady characters discussing a scheme about a ship called the Maggie-O anchored in the bay.
He hurries to his best friend Horatio Nelson’s house to tell him what he heard. And yes–it’s that Horatio Nelson, future Vice Admiral, Lord, hero of the British navy during the Napoleonic Wars, and victor over the French and Spanish forces at the Battle of Trafalgar.
But right now Horatio (Douglas Scott) is just a bratty kid who has a pact with his lower-class pal Jonathan to do whatever the other dares him to do.
Jonathan wants to row out to the Maggie-O to see what’s going on, and he dares Horatio to accompany him.
Of course he does, and naturally the film foreshadows Horatio’s future naval glory to a ridiculous degree with shots of the little boy standing in the prow of the rowboat and being entirely at home on the Maggie-O. He even repeats the phrase a “cannonball come along and pop off your head” a few times, which might be a macabre foreshadowing of Nelson losing his right arm in battle in 1797. Also, most of the time he is referred to by his full name so that the audience won’t forget that “Horatio” is actually Horatio Nelson…
Once the boys are onboard the ship, they witness an attempted mutiny. The captain has ordered the crew to transfer the cargo of gold bars from the Maggie-O to another ship and then scuttle the Maggie-O. The shipowners will then claim insurance on the sunken ship and its “lost gold” while actually retaining the valuable cargo.
It’s insurance fraud, and the crew mutinies because they know that they will be hanged if anyone finds out. The lead crew member even says, “What if they hear about this at Lloyd’s Coffeehouse?” but then the captain kills him. So the mutiny fizzles and the crew switches the gold to the other ship as ordered.
Jonathan and Horatio (Nelson) are discovered onboard and barely escape with their lives. They make it back to land and decide to walk the 100 miles to London to tell Mr. Lloyd what has happened. Why they can’t just tell Horatio’s father or perhaps some other authority figure in town is never mentioned…
Horatio returns home to collect some things and runs into his uncle, a captain in the navy. He asks the boy if he would like to become a midshipman on his ship.
Horatio (Nelson) can’t pass up that opportunity, so he meets Jonathan later that night to explain that he has to break their pact and go to sea instead of London.
Jonathan is disappointed, but when Horatio tells him to hit him in the face, as per their pact, he refuses. Instead he lightly cuffs him on the jaw in a gesture of affection and then walks to London by himself.
Somehow he gets there and finds Lloyd’s Coffeehouse. And yes, it’s actually a coffeehouse. Edward Lloyd opened his cafe in 1688 in the City of London, and it became a popular spot for sailors and those in the shipping business to congregate and share news. The coffeehouse evolved into a center for marine insurance, and relocated to Lombard Street in late 1691.
Jonathan arrives at the coffeehouse, notices Benjamin Franklin meeting with Dr. Samuel Johnson (!) and asks to speak to Mr. Lloyd. But Lloyd has been dead since 1713, so the men assume that he’s pulling a prank. They are about to throw him out when Mr. Angerstein (Sir Guy Standing) the leader of a syndicate, hears Jonathan’s story about the Maggie-O.
He’s not sure whether to trust this boy, but luckily for Jonathan, just a few moments later a man rings the bell that announces news. It rings once, signaling disaster, and the man proclaims that the Maggie-O sunk off the coast of Norfolk, just as Jonathan said it would. Mr. Angerstein alerts the coffeehouse to the fraud and sends people to investigate.
(Unfortunately for the crew of the Maggie-O, Jonathan doesn’t tell anyone at Lloyd’s about the aborted mutiny and the murder, so it seems likely that everyone on the ship was hanged…)
Now that Jonathan was proved right, Mr. Angerstein tells him that he is eligible to receive a reward. But Jonathan asks if he can get a job at Lloyd’s instead. So Mr. Angerstein takes him under his wing and explains how Lloyd’s works (thus giving the audience a helpful primer, too.)
Basically, Lloyd’s is an insurance marketplace made up of a collection of syndicates, groups of underwriters, who join together to buy shares of insurance on ships and thus pool the risk.
News is an incredibly valuable commodity at Lloyd’s, as you can imagine, and one of the functions of the institution is to compile and disseminate information. As we saw with the Maggie-O, when word comes in of “disaster” the bell rings once and everything pauses while the members wait to see what ship has gone down and how much they owe in claims. When good news comes in, (a ship safely delivering her cargo, for example), the bell rings twice.
We even get to witness an auction where one of the waiters (who wait on tables and perform insurance duties) announces the ship, then sticks a pin in a candle to limit the time allowed for the auction. Various members of Lloyd’s then bid on how many shares, and thus how much risk, their syndicate will take on.
And so begins a new chapter in Jonathan’s life. But it’s not all smooth sailing. Early on, Jonathan betrays the noble practices of Lloyd’s by spying for an unscrupulous member and delivering news to him before the rest of the syndicates get it, which gives him an unfair advantage.
Jonathan doesn’t know that he’s doing something wrong, and fortunately, kindly Mr. Angerstein allows him to stay after explaining that Lloyd’s was founded on “two great pillars: news and honest dealings,” and “it’s the lifeblood for British commerce.” To betray those values is to betray England!
After that commercial for Lloyd’s and Angerstein’s oddly moving explanation of insurance (it’s not surprising to me that the the chairmen of Lloyd’s sent a letter to Darryl Zanuck praising the film), we fast forward to a grown-up Jonathan who is working as a waiter at Lloyd’s.
It’s 1784 and Lloyd’s is moving into a new building called the Royal Exchange. (In reality, this happened ten years prior in 1774, but the screenwriters needed Jonathan to be a certain age so they fudged the date.)
Fun fact: the Royal Exchange still stands in the City right by the Bank tube station, but it’s not the same building. A fire in 1838 destroyed it, but the building was rebuilt in 1844. That is the exterior that remains today (the inside has been remodeled several times and now houses luxury shops and a restaurant.) Lloyd’s operated out of the Royal Exchange for 150 years before moving to other buildings in 1925, 1958, and its current home in 1986.
Another fun fact: This shiny, “Bowellist” building houses the current Lloyd’s of London. Like the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the building has the internal service mechanisms like ducts and pipes on the outside of the building in order to maximize interior space. (You either love it or you hate it.)
Despite the modern architecture, Lloyd’s retains some of the traditions you’ll see in this movie, such as the bell that rings out “disaster,” and the practice of recording lost ships by hand in a huge ledger, though now Lloyd’s insures a lot more than ships.
In fact, it has insured basically anything and everything for decades and decades, including the first motor car policy in 1904, Betty Grable’s legs, Elizabeth’s Taylor’s 68-carat diamond, Dolly Parton’s breasts, space satellites, expeditions in Antarctica, and movie productions, including Lloyd’s of London! For more on Lloyd’s, visit their history site.
Anyway, back to the movie! Soon after Lloyd’s moves into the Royal Exchange, an obnoxious, snobby, snuff-sniffing dandy named Lord Everett Stacy (George Sanders) meets with Mr. Angerstein. Stacy wants to invest in Angerstein’s syndicate, but he wishes to do so incognito so as not to sully his aristocratic name.
Mr. Angerstein believes that working at Lloyd’s is the most noble, important thing a man can do, so he has no interest in Stacy’s disgusting offer. Stacy leaves, aghast and offended that a commoner like Angerstein would refuse his investment.
But where is Jonathan? (now played by Tyrone Power, who is about as handsome and charismatic as they come.) He is on trial for being a peeping tom, though in actuality he was testing a new semaphore device that would allow for much faster communication across the Channel. A woman just happened to be undressing and caught him staring in her direction from a neighboring rooftop.
Mr. Angerstein pays Jonathan’s fine and is delighted to hear that the new telegraph device works. They set up a news-delivery service that provides invaluable information to Lloyd’s much faster than before. This is an especially important development because Napoleon is wreaking havoc on British shipping and diplomatic relations (which happens a few years earlier in this movie than it did in reality).
Things get even hairier when Napoleon orders the arrest of all English people in France. Jonathan goes to Calais disguised as a priest to spy for Lloyd’s, and he comes across a beautiful young British woman named Elizabeth (Madeleine Carroll) who has just been arrested by French soldiers. She didn’t know about the order (and she wouldn’t have, since Napoleon didn’t issue that decree until years later in 1803. You have to let this stuff slide.)
Jonathan engineers her escape from the lecherous French soldier and they escape in a small boat across the Channel. Naturally, the two beautiful people fall in love as they cross the stormy sea.
Fun fact: at one point, the pair discuss Horatio Nelson, now Lord Nelson and Vice-Admiral. They reference Nelson’s affair with Lady Hamilton, which began in 1798 but was not common knowledge until about 1801.
Once they arrive on the English coast, Jonathan and Elizabeth enjoy a lovely dinner and share a kiss before retiring to their separate rooms at an inn.
Jonathan is ecstatic and lovestruck, but his excitement turns to anguish when he wakes up the next morning and finds out that his lady love has skedaddled. He tracks the carriage she took and crashes a party at the house where he learns to his dismay that she is already married. Even worse–her husband is the cad Lord Stacy.
Lady Elizabeth is less than thrilled to see Jonathan at the ball as she knows her husband will be furious. She tells him to leave her alone even though she loves him, but now he thinks that she was heartlessly toying with him on the Channel crossing.
To add insult to that injury, Lord Stacy throws Jonathan out of his house because he is just a waiter at Lloyd’s. Stacy harbors extra animosity towards him was forbidden membership at Lloyd’s and that rejection still stings.
Broken-hearted and deeply insulted, Jonathan flees back to London where he takes solace in liquor and a busty waitress named Polly (Virginia Field) who is secretly in love with him. He gets stinkin’ drunk and declares that he will become so wealthy and powerful that no one will ever treat him that way again.
Information on the bulletin boards at Lloyd’s advances the time:
And soon we are in 1803. As he promised, Jonathan has become very wealthy and powerful, and now he runs his own syndicate at Lloyd’s. He has accomplished his swift rise by acting more like a gambler than an underwriter, taking extraordinary risks that most insurers would refuse. But his bets have paid off, earning him the nickname “Lucky Blake.”
We learn that Stacy continues to be barred from Lloyd’s, and that although Jonathan and Horatio Nelson remain friends, they haven’t seen each other since the day little Jonathan left for London. Whenever Nelson is in London, Jonathan is someplace else, though he longs to see his now-famous friend.
Jonathan arrives at Lloyd’s in fancy ruffles and a buckled hat to find a very disappointed Mr. Angerstein. He tells Jonathan that by offering policies on things like dancer’s legs or betting that the Queen won’t have twins, Jonathan is besmirching the noble name of Lloyd’s.
But Jonathan won’t hear it. He tells his mentor that “The day will come, I warrant, when it will be known from Liverpool to Bombay that Lloyd’s of London insures everything under the sun.” (And that day came!)
Later, Jonathan bets a fellow Lloyd’s member an absurd sum that he can introduce the serving girl Polly to the Prince of Wales that very night. He takes Polly, draped in diamonds, to a gambling house where he runs into Elizabeth and her husband who invite him to dinner.
Meanwhile, Polly does meet the Prince, and she catches a very wealthy suitor. More impressively, she somehow manages to avoid a nip-slip. Royer, who designed the costumes, seems determined to make Polly spill out of her low cut bodices.
Anyway, Jonathan goes to dinner at the Stacy mansion. Lord Stacy leaves his wife alone with their guest, hoping to catch the pair in a compromising position. He enjoys a spot of blackmail.
But Elizabeth and Jonathan remain in control of their feelings long enough for Elizabeth to explain that she was running away from her husband that night in Calais, and that she fell in love with Jonathan on the Channel crossing but can’t be with him…at least until the next day when she poses for the painter Sir Thomas Lawrence, the most famous portrait painter of the day.
She invites Jonathan to the studio, and Sir Lawrence winkingly gives Elizabeth long breaks during her sitting so that she and Jonathan can romance. And thus Elizabeth and Jonathan embark on an affair.
Lord Stacy knows about it, but he decides to use his knowledge to blackmail Jonathan into letting him invest in his syndicate at Lloyd’s. He has severe gambling debts and figures “Lucky Blake” is the way to pay them.
But it’s not a great time to be in marine insurance. The French and Spanish are waging war on Britain’s merchant fleet and destroying their shipping lines. After a series of heavy losses, Lloyd’s decides to raise its rates. The shipowners are furious and tell Lloyd’s that they can’t afford to pay the new premiums. They have no choice but to stop sending out their ships. That would cripple the British economy, and Lloyd’s doesn’t want that. So the syndicates, led by Mr. Angerstein, decide to ask the navy to provide convoys; that way, the risks will be diminished and Lloyd’s can afford to insure the ships at the old rates.
Jonathan is horrified at the idea of Lord Nelson’s fleet being cut in half to supply convoys just when his old friend needs it the most. Jonathan promises that his syndicate will continue to insure ships at the old rates without convoys, hoping that with the full fleet at his disposal, Lord Nelson can quickly defeat the enemy. And thus the fate of Lloyd’s is linked to that of England’s. So long as Lloyd’s continues to function, Britain will, too. At least according to this movie.
Most of the other Lloyd’s members think that Jonathan is foolish, but they respect his efforts to support the British navy. And so Jonathan begins singlehandedly insuring England’s merchant fleet.
It doesn’t go well. Unsurprisingly, Jonathan is soon saddled with heavy losses. He’s close to bankruptcy. (But he still manages to throw in a line about how he won’t insure slave ships or anything having to do with the slave trade. But actually Lloyd’s did insure slave ships through the early 19th century.)
At this very inopportune time, Lord Stacy asks Jonathan if he can withdraw some of his investment in the syndicate. His gambling debts have gotten out of control. Jonathan refuses, shocked that Stacy would ask such a thing in the midst of this crisis. He needs every penny just to keep the ships sailing.
So Stacy tries something else. His wife inherits a huge fortune and he tells her that he will finally grant her a divorce if she will give him all of her money. She agrees. It’s a small price to pay to get rid of this jerk.
After that conversation, she hurries to tell Jonathan about the divorce. But she finds him despondent. The French fleet escaped Nelson’s blockade, which means that the dangerous shipping conditions will continue for months. But Jonathan won’t be able to offer insurance much longer, and so the navy will split up the fleet to provide convoys.
Elizabeth puts aside all selfish motivation and offers Jonathan her fortune. She’s a Good Woman. He accepts it on behalf of Lord Nelson, and hopes it will be enough to support Lloyd’s until the French are defeated.
But the war continues. And even Elizabeth’s fortune isn’t enough to sustain the syndicate’s heavy losses. The bell keeps ringing its singular tone (the original title of this movie was “The Bell Ringers”) to announce yet another disaster.
Finally, Jonathan’s syndicate is broke. Lloyd’s has no choice but to ask the navy to provide convoys. The day before the order to split the fleet goes out, Jonathan gets a letter from Horatio thanking him for what he has done and begging him to continue “no matter what the cost.”
The letter gives Jonathan an idea. He disappears after telling Polly to pretend he is ill. The next day, news comes from Calais via Jonathan’s semaphore system that Nelson has defeated the French!
Lloyd’s and London erupts in celebrations. Meanwhile, Jonathan returns from his mysterious errand.
Stacy is very suspicious. He finds out that Jonathan was in Calais the day the message of victory was sent. And he doubts its veracity, though apparently no one else thinks to verify such enormous news besides Lord Stacy. When he asks why no other reports have made it to London, everyone else just shrugs and blames a storm.
Stacy tells Mr. Angerstein his suspicions, and Mr. Angerstein begins an investigation of his own. But he refuses to publicly accuse Jonathan of anything until the facts are established, which infuriates Stacy.
When Stacy threatens to tell the members of Lloyd’s himself, Mr. Angerstein threatens him right back, telling him that it was Lady Stacy’s money that kept Jonathan afloat all these months. So now Stacy has lost the fortune he was counting on!
He’s beyond angry and shoots Jonathan in the back as he embraces Elizabeth.
Poor Jonathan! He is bankrupt, about to be accused of high treason and executed, and his lover’s husband just shot him! Bad day.
Fun fact: although Sanders and Power play enemies in this film, in actuality they struck up a lifelong friendship during the production. They would make four more movies together, and Sanders was performing a scene with Power for Solomon and Sheba (1959) when Power had his fatal heart attack. (Power was replaced by Yul Brynner in the finished film.) Sanders would write the eulogy for Power, and he also included Power in his autobiography, Memoirs of a Professional Cad. (Lord Stacy was far from the last stylish, sleazy villain that Sanders would play.)
Back to the movie. After Jonathan is shot, the film cuts to the Battle of Trafalgar. We see Lord Nelson shot by a marksman in an enemy ship as he paces the deck. He is mortally wounded and dies onboard, but his forces are victorious!
Word travels quickly back to London that Lord Nelson defeated the French just as Jonathan said they had (just a few days later.) So his huge deception doesn’t really matter anymore. I guess?
Fun fact: most critics pointed out the fictional aspects of this movie and emphasized that the character of Jonathan Blake was an invention and so was the ending. For example, The New York Times critic complained that Blake’s fake story of Nelson’s victory is, “of course, a bold revision of recorded historical incident, and one that shades Nelson’s victory with a new and discrediting meaning. It does seem that the climax might have been reached in a less apocryphal fashion.”
Anyway, Jonathan wakes up to find Elizabeth and Mr. Angerstein at his bedside. They tell him the good news about the battle but struggle to tell him that Lord Nelson is dead. He goes to the window and sees the funeral procession.
The film then goes into memory mode and replays moments from Jonathan and Horatio’s childhood, including their final goodbye, with Jonathan’s sad face like a ghost in the double exposure. It is oddly moving, especially because the friendship between the two has been mostly in the background.
Elizabeth joins him at the window, and it seems that they will finally find some happiness. Britain, and Lloyd’s, have survived, thanks to Jonathan! (But I’m distracted by Power’s eyelashes.)
This movie was shot in August through October 1936, and premiered on November 25. It had a large budget of $850,000, and in a cute tie-in, Lloyd’s of London (the real one) insured the production for $1,000,000.
Fox flaunted the opulent, big-budget visuals of the movie in publicity for the film, bragging that the studio built 65 sets for the movie. The sets, especially the upper class milieu of the Stacy’s, are lovely and extravagant.
Lloyd’s was a hit and received two Oscar nominations, one for Best Film Editing for Barbara McClean, who edited nearly 30 of Henry King’s films, and one for Best Art Direction for William S. Darling. Lloyd’s lost the Editing prize to Anthony Adverse and the Art Direction to Dodsworth.
The New York Times critic J.T.M wrote that this film was
…a pleasing photoplay, crammed with authentic detail of the Georgian England where its scene is laid, reverent and restrained if occasionally original in its presentation of historical incident, and threaded by a semi-fictional story of romance and business daring. Under the graphic direction of the veteran Henry King, a cast that is capable down to its merest fishmonger and chimney sweep brings alive to the screen the London of the waning years of the eighteenth century and the early years of the next…Henry King has endowed the production with story book clarity, sustaining interest when the plot threatens to weigh too heavily, with bright interpolation involving the less sternly destined members of the cast.
But the real winner of Lloyd’s of London was Tyrone Power. He made this film as an unknown but emerged a star. Variety‘s take on the newcomer was prescient: “He’s okay. He’s going places. He has looks and he has acting ability. The women ought to go for him in a big way.” And J.T.M wrote:
As the vital Jonathan Blake, Tyrone Power Jr. plays a much more varied role than any he has had previously for the screen. Where sheer action and character delineation are concerned, he is excellent. That he is required by the frequently lofty script to utter occasional passages which seem addressed to a hearkening posterity, is, of course, beyond his control.
Fox threw Power into more movies immediately, and he starred in five films that premiered in 1937. He became one of the most popular male stars in Hollywood, a true heartthrob. Although he is most famous for his swashbuckling adventure films, he appeared in nearly every genre, including musicals, war films, westerns, romances, and film noir. He worked steadily (apart from three years of distinguished service during WWII when he was a pilot in the Marines) until his untimely death at age 44 in 1958.
Here’s the trailer–enjoy! For more, follow me on Twitter, tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram at BlondeAtTheFilm, and Facebook. You can buy this movie here, and as always, thanks for reading!
Greetings to your buddy who works in insurance in London. I enjoyed your account of the rewriting of history for the sake of drama!
Cameron, Enjoyed your review of Lloyds of London, a beautiful romantic drama, with a fine cast, and a slushy recreated historical setting. Like many productions of the time I believe the movie makers were much more concerned to make an enjoyable picture with easy to understand emotional components-loyalty, patriotism, romantic love, enduring friendships. Documentary film making, despite the claim that Lloyds provided assistance, I don’t believe anyone claimed this to be, is expected to adhere to “fact”. Fun fact: Tyrone Power was discovered by scouts for movie companies while he was performing in the theater with Katherine Cornell’s troupe. He refused the first offer because Cornell advised him to wait. The next offer he received from Fox he accepted.
Thank you! I agree–it was all about making an entertaining film. Thanks for reading!
I also really enjoyed the “story” of Lloyd’s of London and how that insurance business started and progressed
to insuring everything. I also found the Loretta Young information amazing. Beautiful ladies of their era.
Hello to your buddy also, I laughed at that noun.
Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it!