Thursday, March 24, 2016

Jean is in Paris

Suzy (1936) stars Jean Harlow as Suzanne "Suzy" Trent, an American showgirl living in London during the first World War.  She meets inventor Terry Moore (Franchot Tone), who quickly falls in love with Suzy and convinces her to marry him.  But when Terry is murdered by a group of German spies, Suzy, afraid she will be accused of the crime, runs to Paris.  There, she meets a French flyer, Andre Charville (Cary Grant); it's nearly love at first sight, and the two quickly wed.  Things get complicated when she discovers that Terry was not killed in the attack, and that Andre still has an eye for the ladies.

As always, Jean Harlow is wonderful in a part that could come off as rather sleazy, but in her capable hands becomes charming.  Suzy announces her ambitions to marry a rich man in the first scene, but when push comes to shove, she is just too intrinsically honest to let money influence her decisions.  Certainly, some bits of the plot seem transparent - we KNOW the German spies will be back, and we are aware that Terry is alive when Suzy thinks he's been murdered.  In spite of this, it's a story that keeps you involved, with just enough twists to keep you engaged.  And while this TCM article comments that at least one reviewer felt that casting Harlow in a drama was a huge waste of her talents (likewise this New York Times review would banish her completely to comedy), her subtle humor is a big help in the film, and her dramatic talents completely live up to the script.
It's always a pleasure to see Cary Grant in anything - even when he is a cad (and a third billed cad at that!)  He's one year away from his magnificent (and arguably starmaking) performance in The Awful Truth, but his aura is already there.  When he's on screen, it's hard to take your eyes off him.  He had been loaned to by Paramount to MGM for this film, much to his disgust.  It was only when he was allowed to work with screenwriter Lenore Coffee to make his character more palatable that he agreed to participate.  The work shows.  He and Coffee create a man who is a scamp, a spoiled brat used to getting his own way.  But they imbue him with just the right amount of charm so that the audience understands Suzy's deep love for him.  It's interesting to note that Clark Gable was at one point considered for the role.
Suzy really has two loves in the Charville household - her affection for Baron Charville (Lewis Stone) is also boundless.  The Baron is initially horrified at his son's impetuous marriage to a showgirl, but grows to love her for her caring ways.  Lewis Stone, who would go on to acclaim as Judge Hardy in the Andy Hardy series, is quite wonderful in this film.  With just the slightest flicker in his eye, he conveys both his affection for Suzy as well as the knowledge that the letters she is reading from his neglectful son are made up for the Baron's benefit.  Much as she truly loves Andre, by film's end we know that her actions are motivated more by her love for her father-in-law.
Andre's paramour, Madame Diane Eyrelle is played by Benita Hume.  Ms Hume started her acting career on the London stage (she would also appear in one Broadway play in 1930), switching to film acting in 1925.  In 1926, she appeared in Easy Virtue, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and written by Noel Coward.  She segued easily into talkies, but was primarily relegated to supporting roles.  When she married Ronald Colman in 1938, she retired from films, though she did frequently appear on the Jack Benny radio show with her husband, playing Benny's neighbors.  Eventually, the Colmans even had their own radio (and later TV) show, The Halls of Ivy.  Colman died in 1958.  The following year, Ms. Hume wed George Sanders, a union which lasted until her death of bone cancer in 1967.  Below is a small piece from Colman and Hume in the TV version of The Halls of Ivy (from 1955, with a little Mary Wickes for good measure!):

We'll end today with the scene, noted in this entry from the AFI Catalog as one that is frequently shown in retrospectives.  And why not - we get to hear both Jean Harlow (dubbed) and Cary Grant (not dubbed) sing! The song, "Did I Remember" (Music by Walter Donaldson; Lyrics by Harold Adamson), was nominated for an Oscar in 1936 (It lost to "The Way You Look Tonight" from Swing Time, Music by Jerome Kern; Lyrics by Dorothy Fields).

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