Thursday, September 15, 2016

Dorothy Flirts

Celia Faraday (Dorothy Mackaill) has had it.  She's 26 and unmarried, and her younger sister Evelyn (Leila Hyams) is trying to set her up with a marriage to the idiotic Raleigh Raleigh (William Austin).  It seems their father Sir William Farady (Claude Gillingwater) will not permit Evelyn to marry until Celia is safely in wedded bliss.  Celia had already been forced to be the green stocking when her other younger sister married, and Sir William will not see it happen again - it's too embarrassing (for him).  Celia, on the other hand, could care less; she's not all that interested in marriage and doesn't care if her sisters want to have husbands.  So, she makes up a fiance who's been shipped to India.  But, when her sister steals and mails one of Celia's fake letters to her "beloved" Colonel John "Wabbles" Smith, the letter is delivered to the very puzzled Colonel John S. Smith (Basil Rathbone) in India, who determines to meet his unknown "lover". Thus begins The Flirting Widow (1930)

The beauty of this slight little film is the interplay between Basil Rathbone and Dorothy Mackaill.  Until he arrives at her doorstep, the film is rather banal, but once they begin to interact, the chemistry is palpable.  As always, Dorothy Mackaill is wonderful in the film; the addition of Rathbone gives her someone whom she can really bounce off.  Added to that, he is quite dashing and amusing as the bemused fiance of a woman he's never actually met. 

For a precode film, this one is rather tame.  My colleague at points out a scene in which a watch gets dropped down Celia's front (with the very interested Colonel Smith watching her retrieve it. You can see a photo of the scene on his website, above).  There is also the character of Raleigh Raleigh - though not stated outright, the film hints that he is gay.  Aunt Ida's drunk scene also might give later censors a bit of a shudder (this is, after all, still the era of prohibition. Sure, it's set in England, but when would that stop a censor?)  But by and large, this is a subdued precode film, which just skirts around the borders of naughtiness.
We did find the character of Celia to be very interesting.  She has an almost masculine way about her when we first meet her - a severe slicked back hairstyle, a tie and sweater;  but later, once she's not being harassed to marry, her clothing and hair are soft and more traditionally feminine.  Much like the film Devotion, which we earlier discussed (and would be released the following year), this is a woman who is rather abused by a family that considers her to be more of a servant than a daughter or sister.  But Celia is released from her servitude by her declaration of an engagement.  Only as the appendage of  a man (even a fictitious one) is she permitted the independence she craves. 

In their review of the film, the New York Times also commented on the slight nature of the film.  However, they too agreed that the chemistry between Rathbone and Mackaill was outstanding.  Though not an earthshattering film, it's a pleasant enough way to spend 72 minutes, if only to see Dorothy Mackaill with an actor who is her equal.


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