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Monday, January 10, 2011

FORSAKING ALL OTHERS (1934)

Joan Crawford, Clark Gable & Robert Montgomery star in this romantic triangle that can’t decide if it wants to make like Noël Coward’s DESIGN FOR LIVING* or be more like a Hemingway/Fitzgerald Lost Generation tale. And it dies in the attempt. Montgomery plays a tipsy scapegrace who’s about to wed Joan while longtime torch-carrier, Clark, ruefully looks on. Joe Mankiewicz, in an early writing credit, was certainly ambitious, but he loses control of the storyline and has to make Montgomery something of a cad for the plot to work itself out. This, in turn, makes Crawford look exceedingly dim and Gable a sap (or a eunuch). But the film deserves a look because of it’s . . . er, look. The great Gregg Toland co-lensed (with George Folsey) and Toland’s mastery of depth gives some of the throwaway scenes a lively visual quality rarely seen at M-G-M at the time. (Toland seems to take over when Gable shows up in a phone booth. You can’t miss the visual up-tick. The whole film comes alive, if only in fits & starts.) And give a listen to Crawford when she’s left at the altar right at the end of the first act. The line, ‘Don’t worry. I’m not going to faint. I’m not the type,’ cuts so close to the bone, she drops all pretense and seems to stop acting entirely. What difference it makes!

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: *The Lubitsch/Hecht very free adaptation of Coward's DESIGN FOR LIVING/'33 is wildly underrated. And Montgomery can also 'do' Coward, try him in PRIVATE LIVES/'31.

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