LONG LOST FATHER. RKO, 1934.John Barrymore, Helen Chandler, Donald Cook, Alan Mowbray and E. E. Clive. Screenplay by Dwight Taylor from the novel by G. B. Stern. Produced by Merion C. Cooper. Directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack.

   A deft mix of comedy and drama from the folks who brought us King Kong, this looks to have slipped in under the wire before the Hays Code gripped Hollywood. In fact, there’s a shower scene that mocks the permissiveness of pre-code Hollywood… but I’m getting off the subject before I even start.

   We start with John Barrymore running a fashionable London night spot, and solely responsible for its success as he charms the patrons (and the viewer) with his easy manner and Dwight Taylor’s quips.

   Dwight Taylor, by the way, was a writer of considerable range, with films like Top Hat, Conflict and Pickup on South Street to his credit, and he provides Long Lost Father with crime and comedy in equal measure. We’re not long into the film before an ex-con from Barrymore’s past (E.E. Clive, pleasingly roguish here) shows up looking for a job, and right on his heels a Scotland Yard Detective (Claude King) looking into a con game they once worked in Australia.

   And the twists keep turning. Barrymore has an unpleasant encounter with the daughter (Helen Chandler) he abandoned years before, finding her predictably hostile and possessed of the same wild streak that set him wandering way back when. And right after that, his obtuse employer (the redoubtable Alan Mowbray, essaying a cockney accent for a change, and doing quite well by it) insists that Ms. Chandler’s song-and-dance act is just what they need to liven things up at the club.

   So we get John Barrymore roped into a relationship with a daughter who reminds him too much of himself, and trying not to get roped by Scotland Yard, all this conveyed with a mix of wit and drama perfectly played by the principals.

   Those who only know Helen Chandler from Dracula (1931) are in for a pleasant surprise here. Ms. Chandler was a star on Broadway, as was Barrymore, and she plays off him perfectly, with the spirit and comic timing of Carol Lombard or Jean Arthur.

   Getting back to the plot, it’s wrapped up very neatly as Ms. Chandler gets in serious trouble and Barrymore and Clive must resort to their old scam and still try to keep out of jail. Watching them work it is like watching a very fine dancer pick up the tempo in a complex series of steps that could take your breath away. Catch this if you can.