Howard Bretherton WriterEinar Thorvaldson, Houston Branch, Sidney Sutherland Release dateDecember 31, 1932 (1932-12-31) DirectorsWilliam Keighley, Howard Bretherton CastWarren William (Paul Kroll), Lili Damita (Marta Molnar), Glenda Farrell (Babe), Juliette Compton (Sonia Lombard), Claire Dodd (Ilse Wagner), Harold Huber (Scarlatti) Similar moviesThe Lake House, Days of Heaven, Fanny & Alexander, Lilya 4-Ever, Arn: The Kingdom at Road's End, The Forger
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The Match King is a 1932 American Pre-Code drama film made by First National Pictures, directed by William Keighley and Howard Bretherton. The film starred Warren William and Lili Damita, and follows the rise and fall of Swedish safety match tycoon Ivar Kreuger. Based on the novel by Einar Thorvaldson, the film was released in December 31, 1932.
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Though a lowly Chicago street cleaner, Swedish immigrant Paul Kroll (Warren William) is ambitious and unscrupulous. When a fellow employee is fired (due to one of Kroll's schemes), Kroll convinces his foreman (John Wray) to keep him on the payroll (officially at least) so they can split his salary. Soon there are eight "phantom" workers, and Kroll and his partner have amassed $460. However, Kroll has been romancing his partner's wife, Babe (Glenda Farrell), behind his back.
Meanwhile, he has also been lying to the people of his hometown, telling them what a successful businessman he has become. As a result, when the local match factory is in trouble, his uncle begs him to return and save it. Kroll gets Babe to withdraw the money he has stolen, deceiving her into thinking they are running away together, then leaves her behind as he sails away to Sweden.
Back home, he cons the local bank into giving him a loan to buy a second match factory so he can merge them. Only his friend Erik Borg (Hardie Albright) knows the truth about Kroll's "success", so Kroll recruits him as his all-too-trusting second in command in his expanding business. Eventually, Kroll owns all of the match factories in Sweden. However, his ambitions do not stop there. Using information he obtains from beautiful, well-placed women he has charmed, he gains official match monopolies in first Poland, then Germany and other countries by offering loans to cash-strapped governments and bribes to corrupt officials.
One day, while dining with Ilse Wagner (Claire Dodd), one of his conquests, he is dazzled by the beauty of star actress Marta Molnar (Lili Damita). Despite her initial rebuffs, he goes to great lengths to win her heart, even hiring a celebrated "gypsy violinist" to serenade her. So enamored is he that he dangerously neglects his business, financed by an ever-growing series of loans.
However, he reluctantly returns his attention to his company. One of his agents discovers an eccentric recluse named Christian Hobe (an uncredited Harry Beresford) has invented an everlasting match, so Kroll has him locked away as a madman.
When the stock market crashes, Kroll can no longer obtain a bank loan. In desperation, he buys $50 million in fake Italian bonds from forger Scarlatti (Harold Huber), whom he then dumps in the middle of a lake to drown. With the bonds as collateral, he obtains a $40 million loan from an American bank. Then he thinks of retiring. He asks Marta to marry him, only to discover that, in his frequent absences, she has fallen in love with Trino, the gypsy violinist. Much worse, his forgeries are detected, and his American loan is canceled. Kroll shoots himself on the balcony and his body tumbles into the gutter, where he started.
Warren William as Paul Kroll
Lili Damita as Marta Molnar
Glenda Farrell as Babe
Juliette Compton as Sonia Lombard
Claire Dodd as Ilse Wagner
Harold Huber as Scarlatti
John Wray as Foreman
Spencer Charters as Oscar
Murray Kinnell as Nyberg
Hardie Albright as Erik Borg
Alan Hale as Borglund
A print of the film is held at the Library of Congress.