The Unholy Garden (1931), an early talkie starring Ronald Colman, was our film for this week. Barrington Hunt (Colman) is a thief, on the run from the law. He escapes to the Palais Royale, an "unholy garden", or thieves' hideout. There, he meets Camille de Jonghe (Fay Wray) and her grandfather, the Baron Louis de Jonghe (Tully Marshall), who are also in hiding from the Baron's brother, from whom the Baron stole a sizeable chunk of money. This also makes the Baron an attractive target for the criminals who inhabit the Palais. They enlist Hunt to exercise his charms on Camille, in hopes of locating the hiding place of her grandfather's money (and of getting past the Baron's rather large handgun). Hunt is attracted by the prospect of a large profit and some personal time with the lovely Camille, but the situation becomes complicated as he finds himself attracted to her.
There's not a lot to praise about this film - it's really a mess. Colman is, of course, good, but he doesn't have a lot to work with. A lot of the plot is jumbled (just WHY did the Baron steal his brother's money? Why did he bring his granddaughter along? And, WHY does she stay - she, seemingly, has her own money.) Interestingly, this New York Times review was quite favorable. They found it a "packet of excitement and fun". Their only complaint concerned the theatre's sound levels - too loud for Mordaunt Hall, even in 1931. Despite the positive review, this TCM article says that the film did not really do well in the box office. We agreed with the general public, and wondered if Mr. Hall saw a different film.
As you can see from the poster art, Colman's name is prominent in the advertising. Yet, in the film credits, he is listed last, though clearly he is the star. Nothing about his listing suggested his starring role; we found that odd. We expected, at the very least an "AND" to separate him from his costars, but there was nary one to be found. Colman had already had an extensive career in silent films and had made several talkies, including his turn as the gentleman turned investigator Hugh Drummond in Bulldog Drummond (1929). The billing was as peculiar as the film itself.
Fay Wray rather overdoes it as Camille - a lot of crying, cowering, and screaming. She was two years away from the film in which her screams would make her a household name - King Kong. Wray's career was long - from a short in 1923 to the TV movie Gideon's Trumpet (starring Henry Fonda) in 1980, but after King Kong, she was relegated to B films. She retired - temporarily in 1942 - following her marriage to Robert Riskin, but returned to films in 1953, eventually finding a more secure home in television. She died in 2004, aged 96.
We can't really recommend this one, unless you are a fan of Colman (which we are). Just have your copy of Talk of the Town available to watch afterwards.