Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Bette Elopes

After Geoffrey Sherwood (Ian Hunter) is jilted by Valentine French (Katharine Alexander), Geoff goes on a bender, and shows up, quite drunk, outside of the church where Valentine is marrying the wealthy John Marland (Colin Clive).  Two police officers are about to arrest Geoff when Miriam Brady (Bette Davis) steps in and hurries Geoff to a restaurant to cool down and sober up.  When Geoff's friends (Hugh Brown and Tony Hewlitt, played by John Eldredge and Phillip Reed) suggest that Miriam can perhaps stay with him and keep him away from the wedding festivities, she agrees to remain with for a few hours.  However, by evening's end, she has become somewhat tipsy and ends up married to Geoff.  Though Miriam is ready to get an immediate divorce, Geoff suggests that marriage might be good for the two of them, and they decide to give it a go.  But, as Geoff's new business begins to become successful, and Valentine gets bored with her husband, the marriage is threatened. 

Thus begins The Girl from 10th Avenue (1935).  This is a very tightly scripted piece.  There's not a lot of fluff, and with a running time of 69 minutes, the story moves quickly from one scene to another. It's an excellent cast, with Davis at her most appealing as the down-to-Earth Miriam.  A working girl in the best sense of the word, Miriam has lost her job sewing labels into clothing.  Her education is fairly limited, but she is happy to learn from her upper-crust husband.  Eager as she is to please Geoff, however, she never loses her moral compass.  In that sense, she is reminiscent of  Madalaine in recently discussed Child of Manhattan. Bette Davis is able to imbue her with a aura of capability and integrity that makes Miriam a strong and attractive character.

We were sorry not to have seen more of Colin Clive, who is wasted really in the role of John Marland.  He only gets a few scenes, and John is a fairly passive role; he is constantly manipulated by his wife, and seems uninterested in anything requires effort.  Regardless, we wanted to see more of him, and see the character better fleshed out.  Clive is probably best known today for his title role in Frankenstein (he was the Dr., NOT the monster!!), but he also played Rochester in the 1934 Jane Eyre and was in the cast of Clive of India, which was the story of one of his own ancestors (no, he didn't play the historical Clive).   Colin Clive started his career on the London stage, and was cast as a replacement for Laurence Olivier in Journey's End, a role he reprised in the film version (with director James Whale, who would later cast him in Frankenstein).  His career was short - he died in 1937, at age 37 from pneumonia, exacerbated by his severe alcoholism.  His wife did not come to the funeral.

The part of  Valentine is ably played by Katharine Alexander.  We've seen her before in the film In Name Only as Carole Lombard's sister, Laura, and as Claude Rains' favorite nurse in Now Voyager.  She gives Valentine a supercilious air, which is effective in playing up the differences in upbringing between her and Miriam.  It also makes her eminently unlikeable.  Thus, it's hard to envision why two men are so passionate about her.  She's cold, and cruel.  She's also no beauty (though she does have a phenomenal wardrobe).  Alexander had a interesting end to her career.  As film roles began to diminish, she went to London, where she appeared in the Paul Muni production of Death of a Salesman, playing Linda Loman.   Her reviews were outstanding, so Alexander decided to go out on a high note, and retired after  her success there. She died in 1981, at the age of 83, 

Finally, there is my personal favorite character in the film, Mrs. Martin, as played by the always wonderful Alison Skipworth (Mrs. Martin).  We are familiar with her from previously viewed films, such as Devotion and The Gorgeous Hussy.   In this film, she plays a former showgirl (who "almost" prevented the birth of Tony Hewlitt.  Seems his father proposed to her).  She owns the building in which Miriam has an apartment, and becomes a second-mother and tutor to the girl.  Though Mrs. Martin is, as we learn, quite sassy, she is tactful as she tries to instruct Miriam in correct grammar and behavior.  But when Marian finally confronts Valentine in a restaurant, it is Mrs. Martin that we watch.  Her enjoyment of the situation is very funny. 

We leave you with a reference to an excellent article from TCM, the film's trailer, and brief bit of trivia about the title.  Why is Miriam from 10th Avenue? Well, in 1935, the part of 10th Avenue on which she lived was called "Hell's Kitchen", and was best known for the its poor, working-class - and tough - inhabitants.