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The Toast of New York is a 1937 film directed by Rowland V. Lee.

It's a fanciful, largely non-factual Biopic of notoriously unscrupulous financier Jim Fisk. Fisk (Edward Arnold) and his business partner Nick Boyd (Cary Grant) start out in the Civil War by smuggling cotton out of the Confederacy and into the Union, something that could have gotten them arrested in the north and shot in the south. They make a killing, but their bumbling sidekick Luke (Jack Oakie) invested their money in Confederate bonds, and the gang loses everything.

Fisk bounces back, though, largely bluffing his way into control of the Erie Railroad and fighting with rival financier Cornelius Vanderbilt. Meanwhile, Fisk falls in love with a showgirl, Josie Mansfield (Frances Farmer). Fisk builds up Josie as a stage star while he becomes a titan of finance, but Josie winds up falling in love with Nick instead. Fisk for his part becomes steadily more and more angry with the contempt that the New York financial establishment shows for Josie. He resolves to destroy them all and make himself the richest man in America, by literally buying all the gold in the United States and cornering the gold market.

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Cary Grant broke out as a huge star in 1937 with The Awful Truth; this film was just about the last time he was billed behind anyone else. 45 years after this movie Frances Farmer would be the subject of another Very Loosely Based on a True Story biopic, Frances.


Tropes:

  • Anguished Declaration of Love: At one point towards the end Josie says that Nick has feelings for her, and he angrily denies it. This is followed by him coming back and saying "I want you to know that I lied to you", which is how he admits that he does love her.
  • Artistic License – History: In the first scene, as Fisk, Luke, and Boyd are fleeing from angry Southerners, Boyd points to a bridge and says when they cross it, they'll be "in the North, across the Mason-Dixon Line!". The Mason-Dixon Line was the boundary between Maryland and Pennsylvania, and while it was symbolic of the boundary between the slave South and the non-slaveholding North, Maryland actually stayed loyal to the Union during the war. (Also, the border was a straight line, not a river.)
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  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: The film foreshadows Nick and Josie falling in love by having him continually insult her while she repeatedly gets offended.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Daniel, suspicious that Luke might be absconding with some of the million dollars in cash that Fisk has given him to handle, searches Luke's pockets. This is immediately followed by Nick catching Daniel actually sitting on one of the wads of cash.
  • Lovable Rogue: Fisk for most of the movie, basically a scammer who cheerfully breaks the law by smuggling cotton out of the Confederacy, or who skirts the edge of a Ponzi scheme by selling stock with a dividend far too high for him to afford, on the (correct) theory that the price will rise high enough for him to get away with it. Turns darker towards the end, when Fisk tries to corner the gold market with full knowledge that he'll probably torpedo the whole American economy.
  • Love Triangle: Josie, predictably, winds up falling for handsome Nick, even while less handsome Jim is showering her with a million dollars' worth of jewels and finery while also bankrolling her show business career.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: Fisk starts out as a Lovable Rogue, being an unethical scammer, but one who's only hurting other businessmen of questionable ethics like Cornelius Vanderbilt. But the scorn that Vanderbilt and the establishment pour on him and their contempt for Josie causes Fisk to snap, and decide to buy up all the gold in the country, even though it will destroy the economy. Nick begs him to reconsider, and when Fisk refuses, Nick fights to stop him.
  • The Rival: Cornelius Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt and Fisk battle for control of the Erie Railroad, with Fisk winning. Vanderbilt then leads the charge of New York investors who attack Fisk for basically embezzling from the railroad to stage Josie's shows. And when Fisk is trying to corner the gold market at the end, Vanderbilt is the one trying to stop him.
  • Run for the Border: At one point Fisk and Luke have to flee to New Jersey to avoid arrest for a stock scam they've been running in New York.
  • This Is a Work of Fiction: Despite being a Biopic that uses a real guy as its main character and builds its climax around a real event (Fisk's attempt to corner the gold market in 1869), this film still has a disclaimer which says that "Except as true names that are used and as to general historical background", the movie is fictional.
  • Time Passes Montage:
    • A series of posters intercut with a series of scenes of Josie acting on stage demonstrates how Jim Fisk is bankrolling her show business career.
    • A montage of coins piling up, stockbrokers fainting, and a series of announcements of financial firms failing shows the passage of time as Jim Fisk is buying up all the gold in the country.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story:
    • Fisk had a partner, Jay Gould, who among other things worked with him in the notorious attempt to corner the gold market in 1869. Jay Gould is not in the movie. And while a lot of people were ruined by Fisk and Gould's caper, both Fisk and Gould came out richer than before.
    • The real circumstances of Jim Fisk's death were even more cinematic than the movie. Josie Mansfield, a real showgirl, dumped Fisk for his partner, Edward Stokes (Grant's character, called "Nick Boyd" in the movie). Then they tried to blackmail Fisk. When Fisk wouldn't pay up, Boyd shot and killed him, and wound up serving four years in jail for manslaughter.
  • Worst News Judgment Ever: A newspaper article reports that "James Fisk insures his life for $1,000,000 before traveling on Daniel Drew's boats." Fisk is trying to embarrass business rival Drew, but why does the newspaper care?
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