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Jim Marley (Jameson Thomas) wants to take over Flint Dawson's (Lionel
Atwill) steel mill, so he sees to it that Flint is having an accident that
costs him both his legs, then persuades Flint to hand over control of the
mill to his wife Vivian (Astrid Allwyn) while in hospital, sweettalks his
way into her heart, convinces her to sell him the steel mill and to come
to London with him ... where he kills her.
Dawson, still in hospital,
suddenly finds himself pennyless and a widower, but he's too proud to
accept support from his (now former) employees, instead starts from the
bottom with the help of blind beggar Marchant (Henry B.Walthall).
with beggars gives Flint an idea: Why not organize all crippled beggars of
the country in a union in an effort to maximize their (diminuitive)
earnings by clever investments ... and 15 years later, Flint has made his
way back to the top and has made a fortune not only for himself but also
for his beggars - and now he decides to crush Marley for taking his steel
mill and killing his wife - but unfortunately, his own daughter Joyce
(Betty Furness), whom he hasn't seen in 15 years, overhears a conversation
about his plans, and since she is in love with Lee (James Bush), Marley's
nephew, Marley somehow learns about his opposition and tries to
outmaneuvre Dawson by manipulating his company's stocks - and suddenly it
seems as if Dawson was crushed, when he learns that his beggars all over
the country have bought stocks of Marley's company, and legally, Dawson is
now the new owner.
In the finale, Dawson hands Marley the gun he has
shot Dawson's wife with, and gives him the choice of either confessing
everything to the police or ... and thus, Marley shoots himself.
Dawson has his steel mill back and welcomes Marley's nephew into his
family as future son-in-law.
Now this sounds good on paper: a
businessman fallen from grace making it back to the top with the help of a
beggars' union - a plot pretty much ripe for satire. Unfortunately, the
screenwriter and director decided to play it straight and turn what could
have been a piece of highly subversive cinema into a routine weepy
melodrama - and so, apart from a solid performance by Atwill, Beggars
in Ermine has very little to offer and turns out to be a very
disappointing piece of cinema. Talk about a missed opportunity ...