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Archive for the ‘May Robson’ Category

RECKLESS

05 Oct

Reckless – directed by Victor Fleming. Dramedy. 97 minutes Black And White 1935.

★★★★

The Story: A Broadway musical comedy star is in love with her producer who is too above it all to propose, and tragedy ensues.

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This was the product of David O Selznick during his brief stint at MGM while Irving Thalberg was recuperating from a heart attack in Europe, and it reveals two things plainly. One is how well-produced the film is, and Two is how ungainly his story ideas were. For the screenwriter is actually an alias for Selznick himself, and the story falls into traps which are fascinating to behold the actors climb out of or fail to climb out of. It’s worth seeing in all respects.

Selznick was L.B. Mayer’s son-in-law, and Thalberg had not been told of his replacement, so there is a certain shame before us here. The plot also hinges on a matter unspoken. Selznick resigned before long; he went into independent production, produced Gone With The Wind, using Victor Fleming to direct it; Thalberg returned to MGM and never trusted Mayer again.

What we have is a handful of terrific actors playing out a sophisticated backstage comedy, which turns violent. It was based on the Libby Holman scandal. And it starts with William Powell, that master of insouciance, playing a gambler with Damon Runyan sidekicks. He has backed the career of Jean Harlow as the actress. In a superb proposal scene you see Powell at his comic best; in a too-long drunk scene you see him ill served.

From the start, everything depends upon the skill of the playing of every actor before us. As a substitute for the absence of reality in the story, each must perform at the pitch of their talents, and they do.

Harlow is exuberant, convinced, lithe, and on target. Her grandmother is played by May Robson, and fortunately given a lot to do. Franchot Tone as the millionaire playboy is almost too good in the role. If he had been a bad actor the film might be better, but he isn’t. His is a portrait of a balloon bursting. Henry Stephenson as his father is a mystery of probity; is he kind; is he cruel? Rosalind Russell plays the jilted fiancée with a nobility so humorous you cannot but root for her. And Mickey Rooney as a child is so alive on the screen, you don’t wonder Spencer Tracy called him the best actor in Hollywood.

None of these players can extract the rotten tooth inflaming this material, which is a front-page story of the sort Warners did better. Fleming is a dynamic director; he never shows too much when he can help it. But you can just hear Selznick whispering those logorrheac memos over his shoulder. Still, Harlow triumphs in a closing closeup. Her voice is badly placed but her energy is winning. There is a wonderful moment she has picking up a hat and tossing it back. Watch for it. Audiences loved her not because she was sexy and didn’t wear underwear, but because she was so alive! She still is.

 

Red-Headed Woman

09 Feb

Red-Headed Woman — directed by Jack Conway. A gold-digging vamp seduces her way to the top. 79 minutes Black and White 1932.

★★★★

This is Harlow’s tenth principal role, and by this time she sure knows a thing or two, and one of the things she knows is Don’t Hold Back One Inch. She plays this fiery tart without a blush of shame, and it’s a treat to see. Harlow is in her early twenties here, and her hair is not the platinum blond it was to more or less remain. She is being thrust forward by MGM as a sex symbol, which annoyed her and baffled her, as it did Marilyn Monroe later on. Both women realized it was quite unreal and unnatural, that nobody was really like that. Several things militate against our respecting Harlow, but being a sex bomb was not one of them. In fact, aside from apparently wearing no undergarments, she is neither sexy nor pretty. Her face is boxy and her lips are puckered with rouge; her nose is from some other face; her voice is completely untrained, grating, and badly placed. As to her being sexy, well, that may have been so at the time to those who were of her own generation and were in their twenties when she was, and saw her first in Wings, where she is quite remarkable and quite unlike her later incarnations. One has to set these things aside to notice her range and how robust an actor she could be. She drives this uncompromising story forward like a steam engine, plowing every cow off the tracks before her. As an actress, she never asks permission. Gentlemen prefer redheads is what she says and she acts on it roundly. Chester Morris is the stolid mid-western millionaire she finagles into marriage, and bounds on from to score all the money in the world. In fact, if there could be such a thing, she is a female bounder. Una Merkel plays her lemony sidekick, and the great Charles Boyer in an early film appearance, plays the chauffeur who becomes her tidbit. The movie is pre-code, and delightfully impenitent as such. Lewis Stone is the first of many fathers-in-law. Henry Stephenson is one of her willing victims – later to be remembered as the speech therapist around whom Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor dance in the “Moses Supposes His Toeses are Roses” number in Singing In The Rain. Liela Hyams plays Morris’s wife in a lovely and giving performance. May Robson plays the society dame who warns her son too late. Paul Bern one of Harlow’s husbands produced it. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote the first screenplay and Anita Loos the last. The film caused a scandal in America, and Britain refused to show it. It was a huge financial success for MGM.

 

 
 
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