Man of the World features William Powell and Carole Lombard, and given what later transpired between them personally and professionally, you’d be forgiven for having some high expectations of them. You may assume that two actors who gave many excellent performances, who co-starred in My Man Godfrey, and who married shortly after making this film, would have some visible chemistry here. Sadly, in all this, you would be mistaken.
Powell is Michael Trevor, an American journalist who fled to Paris after taking the blame for someone else’s indiscretions. Having grown cynical and world-weary, he uses his gossipy newspaper to blackmail some of the many people in Paris who are themselves indiscreet. The city’s full of Americans looking to have a good time, including wealthy Harry Taylor (Guy Kibbee). Trevor poses as a go-between and blackmails Taylor, whose neice, Mary (Lombard), is also visiting Paris. Trevor’s associates, Irene (Wynne Gibson) and Fred (George Chandler) convince him to put Mary in a compromising situation. Of course, the fake romance soon turns into a real one.
After the film’s first third or so, all the energy drops out of it. The romance has no spark, with Powell playing his downtrodden character at the same low note all the way through, and Lombard being so dull that it’s shocking. It’s not entirely their fault, though; most scenes meander about and the script doesn’t give Mary any real reason to fall for Trevor, beyond proximity.
Kibbee shows some verve, and although Gibson delivers her dialogue stiffly, her physical mannerisms are thought through. Her piercing glare and the decorous, impractical way she dons a fur-trimmed wrap give some life to the scenes she’s in, even if the character is unpleasant. It’s no wonder that these two actors had plenty of pictures ahead of them, but Powell and Lombard are, on the basis of this film alone, quite forgettable.
Man of the World makes a decent effort, for its time, at depicting a facsimile of Paris, though the polished production values can’t compensate for the dull plot. The downbeat ending gives the story some edge, but the rest of the film is hard to get through.