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New York Times Review

Silver Dollar

December 23, 1932

Edward G. Robinson in a Film Version of David Karsner's Biography of Haw Tabor.


With the names of the principal characters changed, evidently because of the taking of a pardonable pictorial license, the Warner Brothers have produced an intelligent and interesting film from David Karsner's book, "Silver Dollar," a narrative of the meteoric career of H. A. W. Tabor, known to his Colorado associates as Haw Tabor. The screen translation, in which Edward G. Robinson gave a conspicuously able performance in the leading rôole, was presented last night at Warner's Strand.

It is a type of production which indicates the screen possibilities in dealing with other interesting characters; a cycle of this sort would undoubtedly elevate this medium of entertainment. The rôle of Tabor, who in this offering is called Yates Martin, is especially well suited to Mr. Robinson's talent. His characterization is compelling and convincing and he succeeds admirably in delivering the complex nature of the man who, in the film, is invariably more fortunate than clever. Mr. Robinson makes the most of Martin's egoism and of his confidence in the power of wealth he derives from silver mines. This Martin gambles when he has little or nothing and he is intensely flattered by his popularity with the citizens of Denver and Leadville.

There are the hardships in the beginning, when in the late '70s Denver was a city of tents. Through his loyal wife, Sarah, Martin becomes a storekeeper and at one stage of his career he consents reluctantly to return to Kansas, where they own a certain acreage. The Kansas journey, however, is abandoned largely because of Martin's political aspirations, and eventually he is elected Lieutenant Governor of Colorado.

After his luck has made him worth millions, come the most engrossing incidents of the production, for here Martin reveals his nouveau riche propensities. Notwithstanding the loyal support he receives from Sarah, he becomes entranced by a younger woman, called Lily Owens. He promises Denver a costly opera house and he keeps his word. A chef is brought on from Delmonico's in New York to superintend the cooking in the Windsor Hotel, where, in the bar, the State Senators, over champagne, are wont to hold their sessions. Mere glasses are not good enough for Martin, and he insists that he will present silver goblets to the hotel.

His home is filled with solid silver baubles and he boasts that the house cost him $250,000. When the Martin Grand Opera is built it is a source of great pleasure to the silver-mine millionaire. By that time he is no longer interested in his wife, and the blond Lily occupies a box. As for Martin he is host to President Grant and after the performance he goes to the stage and makes a crude speech.

His private life is frowned upon and he is informed that his political party refuses to nominate him for United States Senator, but with money he buys off a possible nominee for an unexpired term of United States Senator.

His wedding to Lily in Washington is a costly affair, and the party is supposed to be attended by the President. Books with covers heavily laden with silver are presented by this Croesus, who at that time is childishly happy.

Then comes the day when his fortune vanishes with the decline in the value of silver. He contends that the price will return, but it does not and in some of its phases, Martin's end rather reminds one of the last days of Beau Brummel. He sees the ghosts of the past in the opera house and hears the talk he made at the height of his success. Often he had told others to follow him and "you will be buried in a silver casket." He is buried in such a casket.

The film is exceptionally well staged and it moves swiftly and surely from one period to another. Among the notables impersonated besides President Grant, are William Jennings Bryan as a young man, President Arthur and one hears references to Cleveland and McKinley.

Aline MacMahon is sympathetic and believable as Sarah. Bebe Daniels gives a creditable portrayal as Lily. Jobyna Howland is effective as Poker Annie and Niles Welch makes the most of a brief appearance as William Jennings Bryan.