The Phantom of the Ring
The film opens with a shot of Sylvia Benton (Daniels) descending a staircase at a country club while the whispers of other members play about her. They are whispering how she can stay married to such a dolt as Jim Benton (Westcott). Although socially prominent, he seems to prefer a drink or two, or three, to the company of his wife, as we witness when she walks over to the club bar to remind him that he promised the next dance to her. Jim doesn’t want to be bothered and tells her so in rather rude terms, so rude that Bill (Reed), the fellow standing next to him at the bar, offers to dance with her instead. This enrages Jim, who cuts in and attempts to take it outside with Bill. Cooler heads prevail and rush Jim outside. Jim’s had enough; he’s leaving and demands Sylvia accompany him. Sylvia tells him it would be better if she drove, given his condition, but Jim declines her offer, hitting the pedal hard as they speed along.
While in the car, an interesting conversation is going on. Sylvia is fed up with Jim’s antics. She’s had enough and wants a divorce. That’s fine with Jim, who tells her not to expect any alimony. Sylvia replies that she doesn’t need any alimony from him; she still has a valid R.N. license and can work in a hospital. Florey then cuts to the speedometer on Jim’s Lincoln and we know it’s only a matter of seconds before the inevitable crash. And, sure enough, he fails to negotiate a corner and crashes the auto in a ditch. Sylvia gets out unhurt and goes to the driver’s side to check Jim’s pulse. As the scene fades, we’re pretty sure he didn’t make it, but the scene ends on that ambiguous note.
Sylvia’s bedside manner is impeccable, as she calms wrestling manager Frankie Sylvestrie (Toler), who demands to be released by the hospital, even though he suffered a broken leg in a fight. She also calms patient Sadie Harris (Franklin), who is hospitalized with a swollen eye and a broken jaw suffered in a fight with boyfriend Frankie. We learn that Sadie is the madam of a local bordello (this is pre-Code, after all), and that she wants no part of Nurse Hammond treating her. Sylvia calms her and takes charge. In addition, she ends up calming a nervous husband worried about his wife, and has quite the tear-jerking scene after Dickie (Cosby), a young boy she and Dr. Hedwig have been treating in the children’s ward, suddenly dies.
As if that wasn’t enough, Sylvia also acts as a moral support to her fellow nurses, bucking up Nurse Schloss in her romance with Officer Pat O’Brien (gotta love that name) while fielding passes from Doctors Connolly and Hedwig. Both doctors are pursuing “Ben,” as they call her, fervently, with Hedwig actually proposing to her. Connolly is also wishing to propose. We learn that Connolly is involved with Nurse Hammond (Methot), but is keen to dump her for Sylvia, a point Hammond makes to Sylvia.
Later, as Sylvia and Greg are alone in the cafeteria, Greg broaches the subject of marriage and Sylvia tells him the reason she cannot accept. It seems she’s been married for the last five years, although separated for the last three. Greg asks why she cannot she get a divorce. Sylvia replies that it would be impossible. When Greg presses her on the subject, she leaves. Hedwig now enters and Greg spills the beans to him.
Sylvia, who has been a rock of calm in this storm of nerves, suddenly goes to pieces one day when Hedwig operates on a psychopathic woman in an attempt to restore her sanity. We know that the situation is coming to a head, and it spills over at a party Sylvia and Greg are attending. He vows his love to Sylvia, telling her that he has stopped seeing all other women. It’s then that Sylva tells him the reason she cannot get a divorce. It seems that Jim survived the crash, but has become violently insane and is confined to a mental institution. Because of his condition, the law will not allow her to divorce him.
As if this isn’t enough, the soap now gets thicker. Schloss’s fiancée, Officer O’Brien, is shot during a hold-up and dies in front of her at the hospital. Sylvia abandons her problems to help Schloss deal with her loss. As this is going on, guess who walks into the hospital? Why, Jim, of course. Seems he escaped from the looney bin, and during one of his few sane moments has decided to come to the hospital. While he is speaking to Dr. Hedwig in his office about an operation to cure his insanity, in saunters Sylvia. To say she’s surprised to see him is an understatement. He needs her consent for the operation as he’s legally certified. She’s not sure, as the operation is dangerous, but Hedwig talks her into consenting.
Meanwhile, Greg tells Sylvia they should continue their affair even if Jim recovers. Earlier, after Officer O’Brien was killed, Greg told Sylvia they should grab happiness while they can because they never know when life will end. Both remarks are not taken well by Sylvia.
While Jim is in his room preparing for the operation, Sylvestrie comes to visit. Pretending not to know that Jim is Sylvia’s husband (he overheard Sylvia and Hedwig talking), he relates Sylvia’s story and tells Jim the right thing for the husband to do would be to commit suicide. Which is exactly what Jim does a short while later, jumping from a hall window. While this frees Sylvia, she decides to quit. When she visits Hedwig in his office to say good-bye, he asks if she’s marrying Greg, to which she answers “no.” Hedwig then asks her what she’ll do. She’s not sure. How about traveling, he proposes. He’d like to take her to Europe with him. Then he proposes and she accepts. But first, he has an emergency operation and before she resigns, Sylvia tells him she’ll stand in as his nurse.
As I said at the beginning, this is an entertaining programmer, though not really a good film. It’s more for those who love pre-Code films or medical melodramas. Director Florey keeps things going at a good pace and brought the picture in ahead of time and under budget, a habit he’s was known for, especially later in his career, and one that probably helped him get work, as he was not a particularly outstanding director.
But it’s the supporting cast that makes the film interesting. As wrestling promoter Sylvestrie, Toler almost steals the movie, and Irene Franklin, as his madam girlfriend, works well with him. The nurses are all fine, with Methot getting some good screen time. It’s the most I’ve ever seen of the Portland Rosebud in a film, save for Marked Woman. Edward Gargan as O’Brien, the boyfriend of Schloss, only seems to be in the film as a sort of filler between scenes of what’s going on with Sylvia. Veteran actor Vince Barnett shines as Jerry, the orderly. He has a great scene at the staff party, serving drinks to McKenna (Bondi) and Miss Dixon, a probationary nurse (Sale). He’s serving them “Pink Suspenders,” but offers to make them a “Bosom Caresser,” so-called he says, “because it warms you all the way down.”
The advertisements for the film claimed, “Every scene is a shock,” and that “It will run your temperature up to 105.” Well, not quite, but that’s what ads are for, I guess.
This was Bebe Daniels’ last film for Warner Bros., and I’m surprised they used her in an obvious Kay Francis vehicle. She did one film after this, Music is Magic, for Fox, and moved with husband Ben Lyon (whom she married in 1930) to England, where both became successful on the West End stage. The Lyons also had their own radio show in London called “Life With the Lyons” and stayed in England during the war, even broadcasting during the height of the Blitz. They were the most popular couple on English radio and their program vied with Tommy Handley’s “It’s That Man Again” for the number one position in the radio ratings. They parlayed their radio success into a couple of films, the last one being The Lyons Abroad (1955).
She was a cousin of actors DeForest (Star Trek) Kelley and Calvert DeForest (Larry “Bud” Melman on the David Letterman Show).
On the side, he parlayed his build and swarthy looks into a couple of film roles, making appearances in such films as Island of Lost Souls (1933), where he worked under heavy makeup as a “beast-man”; Alice In Wonderland (1933), playing an executioner; Registered Nurse, and W.C. Fields’ great comedy, The Man On The Flying Trapeze (1935). Harry played “Hookalakah Meshobbab” (typical Fields writing).
Wrestling Tor Johnson, he lifted Johnson in an airplane spin and tossed him onto the unfortunate Fields, who was standing at the entrance, unable to get in.
By April 25, 1936 (the commemorative date for the Armenian Genocide), in the vast Detroit Olympia, he went over Dick Shikat to assume the latter’s “world” championship claim.
Ekizian/Ali Baba was the first gimmick wrestler to reach this height. For Shikat’s part, it’s said he was glad to be relieved of the title after hooking the hapless Danno O’Mahoney for the strap on March 2 at Madison Square Garden. Draw your own conclusions, but it looks as if Shikat was well paid to lose that night.
It was not only his professional life that had changed. While still on the wrestling circuit, his marriage collapsed. Financially strapped, he took what little money was left and bought a citrus ranch near San Luis Obispo, Calif. He also met and married his second wife, Henrietta.
As World War II wound down, Ekizian/Ali Baba pursued a ring comeback. But, in 1950, he called it quits for good and retired to Dinuba, Calif., working as a masseur. At age 72, he still jogged three or four miles a day, while making a point of doing thousand squats and 150 push-ups.
He lived on to age 80, finally succumbing to a massive stroke November 16, 1981 in San Luis Obispo. Ekizian was buried in Smith Mountain Cemetery in Dinuba, Calif. survived by his widow, Henrietta, son Gregory and two daughters, Marilyn and Diana.
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– The Phantom of the Ring