A. J. Cronin, according to his American publishers, is a Scotch physician who would rather write a story than perform an operation. His first novel, “Hatters’ Castle,” found a warm reception from readers over here and his second book, “Grand Canary,” was also a delight to the booksellers. Hollywood, via Jesse Lasky out of Fox Films, as they say around the stables, was responsible for having the last-named novel made into a moving picture. And now, under the direction of Irving Cummings, it may be seen at the Radio City Music Hall.
“Grand Canary” is the story of Dr. Leith, who, having administered a serum to some charity patients in a hospital, finds himself disgraced when they die. He decides to leave the world of medicine behind and boards a ship for the Canary Island, where he plans to drown his disappointments in the usual quota of alcoholic beverages. On board he meets Lady Mary (Madge Evans), who is on her way to the same islands to join her husband. Dr. Leith (Warner Baxter) falls in love with the lady. When they reach the Canary Island they find that a yellow fever epidemic is raging. Dr. Leith forgets all his good drinking resolutions and plunges into the business of having lives. Of course Lady Mary comes down with the fever but our doctor, having invented a new serum, saves her life, becomes a hero and returns to his homeland, where he is vindicated and honored. While at home he receives a telegram from Lady Mary saying that she has told her husband of her new love and that she is on her way back to join Leith. Naturally everything ends in typical movie fashion.
As a bare story “Grand Canary” is neither startling nor new. Its success as a book lay in the author’s ability to impart a sensitiveness and delicacy to the treatment of his character. The love affair between Lady Mary and Dr. Leith was unusually well done. It was moving, believable and fine. Literary critics hailed that phase of the book with unrestrained approval. In making a picture out of this material the producers have presented only the externals and have retained none of the author’s feeling for character. The result is just another well screened, ordinarily conceived, uninspired production.
Warner Baxter and Madge Evans in the leading roles do little more than look well. As a team their acting is flat and unexciting. Some of the minor roles, such as those played by Marjorie Rambeau and Roger Imhof as two women of easy virtue, are unusually well acted. As an entity “Grand Canary” is elaborate but meaningless. It is at best only fair entertainment.