Writer-director Blake Edwards presents an episodic, coming-of-age tale of a young man from the slums named Cory (Tony Curtis) who wants more in life than his current surroundings afford him. Cory (whose first name we never learn) drifts to a country club, lands a job as a busboy, where his supervisor, Mr. Earnshaw (Henry Daniell), gives the lad a title - "Mister."
This new appendage to his name is at first comical to Mister Cory, then it becomes a stranglehold. The title symbolizes the rules and decorum expected at the country club, as well as basic rules for living. (Cory laughs at the idea of washing his hands when working in the food service industry.)
Mr. Earnshaw, a Father Figure
Mr. Earnshaw -with a rigid posture and attention to social boundaries- is the very symbol of what both attracts and repels Cory. This is one of two father figures for the orphaned Mr. Cory, who rebels against Mr. Earnshaw's strict rules, but who also adopts them in his own way.
Author Sam Wasson notes that Mr. Earnshaw is an exasperating authority figure, the kind of person who must be "cut down to size" in a Blake Edwards film. Wasson calls this violation of dignity the "splurch," the sound a pie makes when it is slammed into someone's face.
"Quite often, in fact always, those in Blake Edwards' movies who ascend by way of socially or philosophically unethical means are wide open to a good splurching."By this definition, Mr. Earnshaw does not deserve a splurch, but Mister Cory provides one or two anyway by constantly violating the rules even fighting in the kitchen and breaking dishes in a very raw action scene.
"Biloxi" Caldwell, a Second Father Figure
Once he's on the road again, however, Mister Cory is never the same. Perhaps the discipline expected of him at the club remains with him, because our lead character engages bigger goals. He now understands where his interests and talents lie - not in serving others but in serving himself at the poker table. Our anti-hero uses these skills to parlay a new career as the owner of a gambling den under the tutelage of "Biloxi" Caldwell (Charles Bickford).
Cory gains another father-figure in Biloxi - a guest at the country club with whom Cory plays a poker game. Learning that Biloxi makes his living as a gentleman's card sharp (a dramatic version of what Charles Coburn does in The Lady Eve) the two become business partners and swindle people all over the U.S. They finally have a sizeable enough bankroll to set up a gambling den in one place - Cory's hometown of Chicago.
Cory is like both of his mentors - resenting and appreciating the benefits of society's rules.
Themes of Isolation
Cory also appreciates and resents himself. He has good instincts, drive and ambition. Unfortunately they are mostly selfish and on the wrong side of the law, which leaves him with a trail of enemies. Despite the presence of two mentors and a casino full of customers, Cory is a man alone.
|Tony Curtis in a poker scene. Source: acertaincinema.com|
His loneliness is pronounced in the pursuit of women. The lusty young lad runs into wealthy country club sisters Abby and Jen Vollard (Martha Hyer and Kathryn Grant). The movie spends a lot of time watching Cory pursue one while the other pursues him. It is in these relationships where class distinctions are the most pronounced and frustrating for him, providing social commentary.
In stories set in the present day, a gambler is contaminated by association, if not in fact, with the mafia and other underworld types. Thus, gamblers do not mix with "respectable" society in the movies, according to author David Hayano. Any romance between the two worlds is doomed from the beginning. Period movies -such as that set in the Old West- tend to treat gamblers with indifference or even as heroes, still a romance with a reputable citizen is doomed.
There seems to be no place in the world that Mister Cory may call home.
Tension with Authority
|Curtis, Hyer and director Edwards . Source: acertaincinema.com|
Director Blake Edwards called Mister Cory, his "first film of any consequence." According to author Sam Wesson, this film would set the stage for most, if not all, subsequent Edwards films, whether drama or comedy. They all include themes of tension with authority figures. In fact, once Mister Cory begins his ascent, there are forces in place to flout his progress in much the same aggressive way in which he disregards authority earlier.
The very title hints at this theme of authority. The honorific "Mister" originally referred to English gentry, later becoming the standard title for any adult male. By the time this movie was made, there was still the air of gentility about the title; something the tough street kid Cory can rail against.
The Title Changes
|The poster from Denmark|
Perhaps the most intriguing title is from Brazil. It roughly translates to "Hyenas of the Green Cloth," referring to the aggression often played out over the green felt of a gambling table. This title gives the most accurate tone of the film, but with the plural, takes the emphasis off the main character.
Denmark ("The Gambler from Chicago") and Austria ("Cory, The Cheater") hint at Mr. Cory's proclivities and give you a better idea of the film.
Mister Cory is a rugged coming-of-age story in which the protagonist might not make it to prominence alive. Watch it for the social commentary and intense drama.
- Mister Cory is available for purchase on Amazon in Region 2 DVDs by clicking here: Mister Cory. These DVDs will not work in most players from the US and Canada, but will work in multi-regional DVD players.
- This film is currently available on Youtube here: Mister Cory.
- There is a section on gambling movies in the book Poker Faces: The Life and Work of Professional Card Players by David Hayano
- Mister Cory is discussed in the book A Splurch in the Kisser: The Movies of Blake Edwards by Sam Wesson
- A detailed criticism of the themes of Mister Cory can be found at the International Federation of Film Critics: Mister Cory: The Centre Still Holds by Dan Sallitt