Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Myrna Goes Upstairs

This week, we watched Penthouse, a 1933 film starring Myrna Loy as Gertrude Waxstead, a young woman "with a past" and Warner Baxter as Jackson Durant.  Durant is engaged to Sue Leonard (Martha Sleeper), but the wealthy young woman is distressed that her fiance has lowered himself to practicing criminal law.  Bored with the current activities in his law practice, Durant has just defended (and gotten acquitted) gangster Tony Gazotti (Nat Pendleton).   While acknowledging that he craves the excitement of criminal law, Durant was also convinced that Tony was innocent of the crime for which he was accused (otherwise, he would not have defended him).

But his new interest in the law causes friction between Durant and his partners, and with Sue.  Plus, Sue has found a new boyfriend - Tom Siddall (Philip Holmes), an upper-crust young man, who is not all that pure of heart.  Once Sue tells him she is interested in him,  Tom agrees to break up with his mistress, Mimi Montagne (Mae Clarke).  However, the breakup is just the start of problems for Tom, for Sue and for Durant.  And it also serves as Durant's introduction to Gertie. 
Myrna Loy is just adorable in the film.  Invited to Durant's apartment, she discusses spending the night there; he provides her with pajamas, and then, much to her amazement, leaves the bedroom.  Later, she discusses her feelings for Jackson, but tells him that it would be inappropriate for their relationship to be public - she will live as his mistress.  It's quite clear that she is not quite the prim and proper virgin.  She knows her way around the seamier side of the City.

If there is a slight problem with the film, it is the fact that the murder (we won't say who is murdered), seems motiveless.  We really never find out why the victim was targeted. Was there a threat perceived by the murderer?  The murder is a very complex setup - yet the reason behind it is never discussed.

Long Island here becomes the playground of the rich (Sue's family has a mansion there) - much the way it does in The Great Gatsby.  We suspect that it is just far enough from the City as to have the aura of entitlement.  As New Yorkers, we found that amusing.
We found Charles Butterworth as Layton, Durant's manservant, very amusing.  We also had a long discussion about Warner Baxter.  We have so rarely seen him in films, though he had a long career.  He was the Crime Doctor in the 40s, as well as playing The Cisco Kid in several films. He had a substantial  career in silent films, before making the switch to talkies - even playing the original Daddy Long Legs in 1931.  He died at age 62, the result of infection following a lobotomy (in this case, being used for the relief of extreme pain caused by arthritis. A quick look at the medical literature for the late 1940s and early 1950s does show that lobotomy was being considered as a relief for intractable pain!)

Again, the costuming is quite good, though Myrna Loy only gets one dress - it's gorgeous, but except for a change of costume at the end, this is all we see.  There is a very funny scene in which she tries to describe to Warner Baxter what dress he should bring her from her apartment. Clearly she has quite a nice wardrobe at home.

Before we go, here is a clip from the film - featuring Myrna in her dress.  Next week, another classic film.