The Toast of New York (1937)

 

 

Director:     Roland V. Lee. 

Starring:     Edward Arnold (James 'Jim' Fisk Jr.), Cary Grant (Nicholas 'Nick' Boyd), Frances Farmer (Josie Mansfield), Jack Oakie (Luke), Donald Meek (Daniel Drew), Thelma Leeds (Mlle. Fleurique), Clarence Kolb (Commodore Cornelius 'Corneel' Vanderbilt), Billy Gilbert (Portrait photographer), George Irving (Broker selling gold), Russell Hicks (Fisk's lawyer), Dudley Clements (Jed Collins), Lionel Belmore (President of the board).

story behind the Financial Panic of 1869

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"Jim Fisk  --  half genius, half clown -- began life with empty pockets, a pack on his back and a Yankee gift of gab.  Loving a uniform -- always in the front of every parade -- he became the Barnum of Peddlers, and then skyrocketed into 'high finance' in Wall Street, where in a few brief years he startled a nation with his colorful career.  But in 1861  -- before the first guns of the Civil War were fired  --  he was still an obscure peddler -- somewhere south of the Mason and Dixon Line."

The name of his business is Fisk and Boyd.  Jim Fisk puts a $10 dollar gold piece in with a bar of soap and mixes the bars of soap up.  He then tells people that they can buy the soap for $1 dollar a bar and may win the $10 dollar gold piece.  The people start buying the soap in a hurry.  A man comes riding up to tell everyone that the South has just fired on Fort Sumter and war is declared.  The man also declares that Fisk is a Yank and they are going to run out of town all of the Yankees.  Fisk and his two confederates in the audience, Nick Boyd and Luke, have to get the hell out of town as fast as they can.  A posse chases the wagon.  The posse stops when the men pass north of the Mason Dixon Line. 

Fisk tells his compatriots that they could buy cotton cheap at 12 cents a pound in the South and smuggle cotton up north to the textile mills and sell it for a $1.88 profit a pound. He sends Luke up north to Boston to open up an office.  Nick will stay with Fisk. Jim will pretend he is a southerner going to join his army unit and Nick will be a buyer of cotton for England. 

1861 goes followed by 1862.  Fisk buys up whole crops of cotton.  It's now 1863.  Then 1864.  The boys are making a lot of money smuggling cotton.  And finally the war is over in 1865.  Nick and Fisk return home to Boston.  They pay a visit to Luke who is happy to see them.  They made over $800,000 dollars. 

Luke says about a year ago he learned that the smart Boston bankers were swapping gold for paper money at the rate of $400 dollars in gold for $1,000 dollars in paper money.  Fisk says the bankers were in on the inside track.  They knew once the war was over the government would back the value of paper money.  So Luke says he traded their gold for the paper money.  Now they are worth more than $2 million dollars.  But then Luke confesses that since the guys kept writing him that the South was going to win the war he bought Confederate bonds.  (The guys tell Luke they had to say the South was going to win the war because they knew the southerners were opening and reading their mail.)  The guys are disappointed, but Fisk has the idea of starting to build on Confederate Bonds.

The guys make an offer to buy the Stonington Railroad from their President Jed Collins, but Collins and his board don't want to sell.  So Fisk says if they promise to give him $2 million dollars he will buy all of the wizard Drew's boats for them and keep the difference between what he pays Drew and the $2 million dollars. 

New York.  In the papers the headline is that James Fisk insures his life for $1,000,000 dollars before traveling on Daniel Drew's boats.  Daniel Drew resents the implication that his boats are unsafe.  Drew shows up and sends a messenger boy to tell Fisk that he wants to see him.   Drew comes up to see Fisk.  Fisk and the boys put on a fake show for Drew to impress him.  The guys pretend they have the resources to swamp Drew and his enterprises.  So Fisk offers his boats for $2 million dollars.  Fisk only wants to pay $1.5 million dollars and Drew signs the contract. 

The guys decide to celebrate by going to see Mlle. Fleurique and her Dimpled Darlings in "Playtime in Paris".   After the performance Nick goes backstage to see Fleurique.  He pretends that he is Fisk and they go out to the Astor House.  Fisk shows up and is impressed by Fleurique's blonde maid Josie Mansfield from Illinois who wants to be an actress.  He grabs one of Fleurique's dresses and tells the blonde to put it on.  He's taking her to the Astor House. 

Fisk arrives with his girl for the evening.  Fleurique starts to make a scene over the dress but Fisk gives her $500 dollars to forget about it.  The French woman agrees to the deal. 

Fisk buys Miss Mansfield an expensive necklace, but she refuses to take it.  Jim tells her that he is going to invest in her career.  He will sell her like any other other business product. 

Daniel Drew shows up to complain to Nick how Fisk lied to him and then cheated him.  Fisk comes in and Drew complains that Fisk tricked him.  Drew thinks that Fisk is in cahoots with Vanderbilt, Drew's nemesis.  To get even with Vanderbilt he tells Fisk and Nick that they're coming in with him on his Erie Railroad business.  Fisk wants the boys to make Vanderbilt believe that he is buying control of the Erie Railroad.  Fisk tells Drew to declare a huge dividend to the stockholders and the public will buy up Erie stock and the stock price will shoot up.  Vanderbilt will then buy but at a much higher price.   

Vanderbilt knows it's a trick but decides to buy enough stock to gain control and then recoup his losses throw better management of the Erie.  He goes down to talk to Fisk and wants to know how much stock Fisk still has to sell, because he's buying. 

Miss Mansfield complains to Jim that Nick criticizes her and avoids her.  Drew, Nick and Luke come in to say that Vanderbilt has gotten an injunction against them so they can't print out any more stock.  And, what's worse, they have already sold more stock than they can deliver.  Nick stays behind with Josie.  He complains that Jim is spending too much time with her and not enough on business. 

Nick brings the recently delivered show bill for Josie to Fisk so he can see it.  Drew complains to Nick that Fisk isn't concentrating enough on business.  Fisk comes up with an idea to print convertible bonds that can be turned into stock.  They agree to issue $10 million dollars worth of convertible bonds. 

The next day finds Vanderbilt in trouble.  He has spent $9 million dollars on Erie stock.  An aide suggests that he start selling the stock, but Vanderbilt says if he does, the stock price will fall like a punctured balloon.  When Vanderbilt is told what Drew and Fisk are doing, he says he's going to put the Supreme Court to work. 

Fisk becomes a colonel in the militia, 9th regiment because he pays off their deficit.  Nick arrives to warn Fisk that Vanderbilt went to the New York Supreme Court to got their scheme declared a fraud and there are warrants out for the arrest of Daniel Drew.  Fisk tells Luke to get the militia boys together and march them down to the Chamber Street Ferry.  They are going to cross the Hudson River to Jersey City, New Jersey where they will be safe from the law. 

Vanderbilt comes marching down the street with policemen anad a lot of tough looking guys.  Drew and Fisk grab a driver with horses and a wagon, put all their millions in the wagon and head out for the ferry.  Nick is staying to watch the business and Josie.  Vanderbilt and company arrive just after Drew and Fisk leave the place, so he tells his men to get to the ferry as fast as they can.  The wagon gets on the ferry just before it leaves the dock.  Vanderbilt arrives too late.  He is furious and yells at Drew and Fisk as the ferry leaves.

Nick speaks with Josie to tell her what has happened.  He is to be her "body guard".  Nick has to accompany her wherever she goes.  There is a great deal of tension between the two of them.  Perhaps to get a rise out of Nick, Josie tells him she doesn't like him and that he is always depending on his partner Fisk.  Two reporters arrive and Nick and Josie learn that the gossip is that Josie is the evil woman behind the Erie scheme and she will get the $10 million dollars involved.  Nick gives such a strong statement on Josie's behalf  to the reporters that it impresses Josie.  She thanks Nick and tells him frankly that he has been fighting her all this time because he is in love with her.  He kisses her as she puts her arms around his shoulders.  This bothers Nick's conscience because he knows it will hurt Fisk. 

Fisk, Drew and the militia take up headquarters in the Taylor Hotel.  They have the sign changed to Fort Taylor.  From the balcony Fisk drills the company on the hotel's big front lawn.  Nick shows up to tell Fisk the news.  There's a $50,000 dollar reward for the capture of Drew and Beef Tooley is organizing a gang in Cherry Hill to come over and get him.  The militia band plays for the people in the hotel.  The tough guys barge into the hotel and storm up the steps after Drew.  They are pushed back and out of the hotel by water from three fire hoses.  The militia boys gives a big cheer at their victory.  But Drew has gone over to speak with Vanderbilt. 

Drew tells Vanderbilt that Fisk has led him astray and he hasn't been righteous to him because of it.  So Drew is going to combine forces with Vanderbilt to chase Fisk and Boyd out.  Fisk and Boyd arrive and hear this and Fisk tells Vanderbilt that he will make a deal with him as long as Drew is voted out of the Erie railroad.  Vanderbilt accepts and Drew is out. 

Fisk sets up his headquarters above the theatre where Josie performs.  In the newspapers there is a headline about the stockholders being on the warpath.  They are trying to indict Fisk for buying the Opera House with Erie funds.  They say Fisk is just a big swindler.  Nick tells Fisk that he has to get rid of Josie because she will be dragged into this whole mess.  Fisk informs Nick that he is going to marry Josie if she will have him. 

Josie speaks with Nick about Fisk asking her to marry her.  She can't marry him.  Nick says he doesn't love her so she should marry Fisk.  Josie lets Fisk put the engagement ring on her finger.  At night, however, she is not happy at all.  Nick comes to see her and tells her that he does love her, but he can't go against his friend.  She tells Nick that she will make the sacrifice and marry Fisk.  Nick says that's good and leaves.  Josie hangs her head low. 

It's opening night for Josie and her show "The Twelve Temptations".  She's a big hit with the audience, but when Fisk shows up on stage with her, the stockholders in the crowd start yelling at him. This upsets Josie. 

At home Fisk now says he wants to corner the market for gold.  He wants to buy and buy until he's cornered it.  Nick tells him he can't do it because the government will step in.  Fisk just says he will take care of Washington.  Nick counters by saying Fisk will pull down the whole financial structure of the country.  He also tells Fisk that if he tries to corner the market, he won't go with him.  Nick says it's time for him to get out so he leaves. 

The headline in the newspaper says that Jim Fisk is in a gold grab and is defying Washington. 

Luke finds Nick for Josie.  Nick tells her that Fisk can't have everything.  He leaves. 

Vanderbilt comes in to see Fisk.  He tells Fisk that he has started a panic and he (Vanderbilt) is going to ask the government to intervene.  The headlines say that gold panic sweeps the nation and bank failures alarm the financiers.  Vanderbilt says that Wall Street will be closed tomorrow because he doesn't see how they can stop Fisk now. 

Josie tells Fisk that what he is doing is wrong.  People are suffering, being ruined. She says he has changed and now is completely selfish, thinking only of himself.  Jim is now a complete egomaniac saying that he is above right and wrong. 

Vanderbilt gives a note from the President to the speaker for the Stock Exchange.  He announces that "President Grant is releasing unlimited gold from the United States Treasury.  The Gold Corner is broken.  Let's get Jim Fisk."  Now the price of gold starts to decline. The dictator is now broke, busted.  Jim laughs that this is the first time Nick was smarter than he was.  Fisk tells Josie that at least she has the money he gave her.  But Josie tells him that Nick needed the money, so she gave it to him. 

The mob descends on Fisk and breaks through the windows and doors.  They push the militia back.  Fisk goes out to meet them and tells them that he's broke too, but he will recover while they will stay small.  To this someone in the crowd shoots Fisk.  He falls down the stairs.  Nick and Luke bring him to to an empty room.  They are joined by Josie.  Fisk knows he' going to die and wonders if the golden gates are really made of gold.  He dies. 

 

Good movie about the Age of the Robber Barons.  So typical of the United States, the government doesn't keep tabs on the actions of the very rich and this brings periodic economic disasters to the nation.  It's true today (2009) just as much as during the period of the presidency of U. S. Grant.  The government only responds to the situation after the crisis is upon everyone and great damage has been done.  Then the government wakes up for awhile until things simmer down and then government goes back to sleep until the next crisis.  Edward Arnold was great as Jim Fisk, the amoral businessman who wanted to rule the U.S. economy no matter how much it hurt others and the country as a whole.  Too bad we don't have more films like this to show that the wealthy will play while the government is away to the detriment of the entire country.     

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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