Successful Calamity, A (1932): Adolfi’s Pre-Code Comedy, Starring George Arliss and Mary Astor

John G. Adolfi  directed A Successful Calamity, a pre-Code comedy, starring George Arliss and Mary Astor.

Based on the 1917 play A Successful Calamity by Clare Kummer, the tale concerns an elderly millionaire who must deal with his selfish second wife and some spoiled grown children.

Henry Wilton, a successful financier returning to the U.S. after a year in Europe helping to arrange war debt repayments, is excited by the prospects of reuniting with his family, his much-younger second wife Emmy, his daughter Peggy and his son Eddie. However, when he arrives in town, he is greeted only by his butler.

In his absence, Peggy has become an aspiring actress, planning to marry George Struthers, her fortune-hunting fiancé, and Eddie a polo player. While gone, Emmy has redecorated his bedroom in Art Nouveau, and removed his favorite chair, destined for safekeeping.

Henry tries to buy stock from Partington, his business rival, who refuses to honor an agreement they had to sell it at a certain price, claiming the agreement is not in writing.

Meanwhile, the Wilton family are not spending much time together, and Henry becomes tired of his family’s hectic social schedule.

Told that the poor can’t go out, Henry decides to feign poverty to test his family’s mettle, telling them that he is ruined. Rally to his side, they give up their plans and stay home for dinner, leading to a frantic effort by the servants to feed them all.

Soon, Emmy regrets her extravagance, Peggy gives up her engagement to George for a man she truly loves, and Eddie decides to be a pilot.

Partington is delighted to hear that Henry is ruined, and assuming that his stock will lose its value. Henry then buys Partington’s stock at a price lower than agreed upon, and that Partington had paid for.

Avenged on his rival, Henry confides that he is not ruined, only to be told that Emmy has deserted him. However, Emmy comes back, after pawning her jewelry, admitting that she was happiest when they were poor and could not go out, forcing them to spend time as a family.

George Arliss as Henry Wilton
Mary Astor as Emmy “Sweetie” Wilton
Evalyn Knapp as Peggy Wilton
William Janney as Eddie Wilton
Grant Mitchell as Connors
Hardie Albright as George Struthers
David Torrence as Partington
Randolph Scott as Larry Rivers
Fortunio Bonanova as Pietro Rafaelo


Warner Bros.
Release date: September 17, 1932 
Running time: 72 minutes

Directed by John G. Adolfi
Produced by Lucien Hubbard
Screenplay by Julien Josephson and Austin Parker.

Music by Bernhard Kaun
Cinematography by James Van Trees
Edited by Howard Bretherton


I am grateful to TCM for showing this movie on September 19, 2019.