Monday, April 23, 2012

Kay Almost Strays

Transgression (1931) is a Pre-code wonder from the always fascinating Kay Francis.  Ms. Francis plays the happily married Elsie Maury, whose husband Robert (Paul Cavanaugh) is called to India on business. Though Elsie asks to accompany him, Robert refuses, and instead sends her to Paris. While in Paris, the naive Elsie becomes enamored of Don Arturo de Borgus, a philanderer of the first water, played with relish by Ricardo Cortez.  Though Elsie tries to remain loyal to her husband at first, her infatuation, boredom, and Don Arturo's advances tempt her to stray.  And so, she arrives at his estate.  Where, as they say, the plot thickens.

Kay Francis is just wonderful as the tempted wife.  As always, she is beautifully clothed; she manages to portray the ambivalence of a young woman who longs for her husband, but is bewildered by the new rules of the jaded society into which her husband has thrown her.  Also fun to watch is Ricardo Cortez.  His Don Arturo is a total cad.  And if you think he is bad at the beginning, wait til you see the end, and realize just how horrid he truly is!  We also very much enjoyed the performance of Nance O'Neil as Paul's sister, Honoria.  What a totally reprehensible character she is! Nance plays her with relish, and she is a delight to despise.  Here she is spying on our Kay:

The end will show you why this fits so perfectly into the Pre-Code mystique.  And you will really enjoy it! We will be looking at a few other Kay Francis movies from the Pre-Code era in the next few weeks, so we hope you will join us again.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Precode Bogart

This week, we examined another precode movie, notable for being an early effort of Humphrey Bogart.  The film is Love Affair (from 1932 - not be be confused with the 1939 film of the same name with Irene Dunne, which inspired An Affair to Remember) and Bogart plays James Leonard, a brilliant aeronautical engineer who becomes involved with an impoverished heiress. Carol Owen (Dorothy Mackaill) is a party girl, with a love for thrills (and no one else) til she meets Jim at the air field, where she has gone to be wowed in an airplane.  He manages to knock the stuffing out of her (by doing loop-d-loops with his plane) and she returns the favor by driving him to the City (at 80 miles per hour!)  It doesn't take long before Jim has spent the night with Carol (this is a precode, after all), and before Carol discovers that the little money she has is gone, and she will end up being a detriment to Jim's efforts to develop an airplane motor company with his revolutionary new motor design.
Dorothy Mackaill was nearing the end of her career when she filmed Love Affair.  Within two years, she left pictures for good (after seeing her rather substantial career peter out to supporting roles and then none at all).  Sad really, as she was quite talented.  We were very impressed by the scene in which she is flying with Jim - the look on her face is priceless.  Also wonderful was the scene in which we realize she has been intimate with Jim.  Her tears as she brushes her hair before she goes out to join her lover are very special. We see in her eyes all her emotions - her fears, her anticipation, her deep and abiding love.

This film is also noteworthy as an early attempt to introduce Bogart as a leading man.  Columbia obviously decided he did not fit the bill (their loss. He is wonderful in this film) and Bogart would leave to play gangsters and finally, the ultimate leading man at Warner Brothers.  Here is a scene with Bogart looking all ruggedly handsome:

Luckily, this film is available on DVD (though we caught it on Antenna TV; you could look for it there as well).  It is certainly worth your time.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Garbo Coughs

1937's Camille, with Greta Garbo as the notorious Marguerite Gautier was the subject of our latest discussion.  Garbo, of course, is wonderful as the opportunistic courtesan who falls in love with the scion (Robert Taylor as Armand) of a well-to-do family.  While Marguerite resists the attentions of - and her feelings for - Armand, she finds herself desperately in love with him.  A summer alone with him convinces her that she can change to a simpler lifestyle, but the mores of the time interfere, and Marguerite is faced with a choice - stay with Armand, to his ruin, or leave him and break both their hearts.

Garbo is just remarkable here. Her silent era training is evident as she uses her face, her eyes and her body - rather than her voice, to show us Marguerite's physical deterioration.  She LOOKS sick - beautiful, but quite ill.  Yet she is not overstated or exaggerated.  She is the epitome of suffering, trying to summon her last ounce of strength to greet the man she chased away.

Also wonderful is Lionel Barrymore as Armand's father, Monsieur Duval.  Barrymore could play his character as a villain, but he does not.  Monsieur Duval is merely a loving father who dreads hurting a woman who seems to be very sweet, and very much in love with his son, but who will soon cause his downfall if they continue their relationship.  When one realizes that Barrymore is less than 2 years from being forced into a wheelchair for the rest of his life (he suffered from severe arthritis that prevented him from walking), one realizes that he is acting through his pain.

Robert Taylor, too, is excellent, with Armand's naivety shining from his youthful face.  Armand seems sometimes like a sex object - a lovely creature for Marguerite to adore.  Taylor fits that bill as well, but also is able to make you understand why Marguerite would give up everything to be with this lovely, gentle man.

This is a beautifully designed film as well, with magnificent costumes (by Adrian).  Our group had a bit of discussion on the tendency of some films to not quite get the hair style right for the period - which is NOT the case here.  The whole atmosphere of the film is perfection.  It is interesting to note that the silent version of the film is also available (on the DVD of Camille), with Rudolph Valentino as Armand and Nazimova as Marguerite.  It is certainly worth a look if only as a comparison to its magnificent remake.

Here is a trailer to the Garbo version: