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The ‘Other’ Wolf of Wall Street

The 'Other' Wolf of Wall Street

“Money there is, also madness, women, and swindling,” wrote The New York Times about The Wolf of Wall Street—in January of 1929.
Yes, there was an early talkie bearing the same name as the new Martin Scorsese
, although it spun a completely different story. Mordaunt Hall reported in
the Times, “It is not conspicuous for
its originality. It would seem that almost anybody could have written a more
exciting and plausible story on the subject after standing for half an hour outside
Trinity Church, watching the passing throng of brokers, bankers, investors, and
stenographers.” While it dealt with unscrupulous wheeler-dealers, at a time
when the market was booming and ordinary people were investing in stocks, it
apparently didn’t reveal any insights into the world of trading…nor did it
forecast the cataclysmic Black Tuesday crash of October 29 that year.

The film seems to have been a potboiler, although Photoplay magazine, writing for a mass
moviegoing audience, was less demanding than the Times. Its unnamed reviewer wrote, “Whether you have won or lost
money in Wall Street, or haven’t played the stock market at all, George
Bancroft and Baclanova will give you one of the most entertaining talkies so
far made. A delightful evening.”

What was the film about? Let us consult the American Film Institute Catalog – Feature
Films 1921-1930
, which provides the following bare-bones synopsis: “The
Wolf of Wall Street (George Bancroft) corners the market in copper and then
sells short, making a fortune and ruining the fiancé of his maid, Gert (Nancy
Carroll). Out of spite, Gert then tells The Wolf that his wife (Baclanova) has
been cheating on him with his partner, Tyler (Paul Lukas). To revenge himself,
The Wolf deliberately ruins himself and Tyler in the market and then walks out
on his wife.”

If the storyline sounds routine, that wouldn’t be out of
character for journeyman screenwriter Doris Anderson, who turned out many
scripts from the 1920s through 1950, including the Clara Bow vehicles Hula and True to the Navy, as well as Anybody’s
Woman, I Give My Love,
and The Girl
from Scotland Yard
. It was directed by Rowland V. Lee, a skillful director
who brought polish to such 1930s films as Zoo
in Budapest, The Count of Monte Cristo,
and Son of Frankenstein.

Sorry to say, we can’t judge the film for itself. Last
spring, the eminent film preservationist David Shepard wrote on the
Nitrateville website, “The 1929 Wolf of
Wall Street
is a lost film, as far as I know. However, it contained a
couple of interesting montages by Slavko Vorkapich. He kept prints of these
sequences and gave them to me. We used one in Unseen Cinema that was curated by Bruce Posner and produced for DVD
by myself. And that’s probably all you’ll ever see of The Wolf of Wall Street.”

It doesn’t sound like a great loss to cinema history, but it
still would be fun to see alongside the new film of the same name.

Incidentally, The Wolf
of Wall Street
came early in the all-talkie cycle, and reviewer Hall
dutifully reported, “On Saturday, when this film was screened for its second
running, the characters lost their voices, or, at least, the audible device
refused to function. It was rather nice to hear their muffled tones, but quite
a number of spectators decided that they wanted to have their money’s worth of
sound. So they clapped their hands impatiently. Still there was a hush about
the proceedings. Then there was further clapping, which must not be construed
as applause, and finally George Bancroft, as Jim Bradford, broke the near
silence by telling of his admiration for his ‘Old Girl,’ as he called his
Russian wife, and also his voicing his confidence in himself to outwit David

Thank goodness today’s digital projection has put an end to
such glitches. Oh, wait…

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