Film (1934). Walter Wanger Productions. Directed by William A Wellman. Written by Lynne Starling, based on The President Vanishes (1934) by Rex Stout (anonymous). Cast includes Edward Arnold, Arthur Byron, Peggy Conklin, Andy Devine, Paul Kelly, Rosalind Russell. 80 minutes. Black and white.
In the Near Future, with Europe already engaged in what looks like World War Two, the isolationist President of the United States (Byron) arranges for his own disappearance, in order to avoid having to make a warmongering speech to Congress, jumping the gun on the Fascists who had already planned to kidnap him. The Secretary of State (Arnold) takes over, a cabal of munitions manufacturers plots to enter the great conflict, Fascists are blamed for the vanishing of the President and crushed, America is saved from war.
Melodramatic, muddled, and cluttered with stock footage, The President Vanishes cannot make itself clear about the issues involved. Certainly before the rise of Hitler American isolationism had not become surreally irrelevant to the course of world history, and the President's desire to avoid war does not yet seem blinkered; but the narrative incoherence of the tale, even when its heart might be in the right place, submerges anything in this adaptation of Rex Stout's first novel that could be intended to convey astuteness. Andy Devine and Rosalind Russell in minor roles provide light relief. [JC]