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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

FRISCO JENNIE (1932)

Ruth Chatterton was still wrenching tears from her fans playing one more sacrificing mother in this variation on MADAME X/’29, the early-Talkie that (briefly) made her a star. There, her own secret son defends her on a murder rap. Here, her own secret son prosecutes her on a murder rap. Plus ça change! It all get a bit convoluted & silly, but there’s lots of tasty character support as megger William Wellman keeps the pace hopping thru 30 odd years of Barbary Coast politics & vice. During the big trial scene at the end, he shows off by sweeping the camera around instead of cutting, but the best part of the film is in the prologue. Here, a fresh-faced Chatterton runs a clip joint with her pop and tries to get his blessing for a quick wedding just as the 1906 San Francisco earthquake hits town. The quake is fine, but the atmosphere in the club is even better. Plus, we get a chance to see the great, tragic James Murray, the lead in King Vidor’s THE CROWD/’28, in one of his last decent roles as Chatterton’s prospective husband/lover. After that, it’s boilerplate Mother-Love stuff.

DOUBLE-BILL: Wellman’s MIDNIGHT MARY with Loretta Young, Franchot Tone & Ricardo Cortez, which comes on the same DVD in this Pre-Code ‘Forbidden Hollywood’ set, is a far better pic . . . with more sacrificial courtroom drama. This little film from M-G-M shows Wellman at his best with a rattling pace, a clever time-shifting structure & even more technical razzmatazz as lovely Loretta waits out an all-but-certain Guilty Verdict on yet another murder rap. (And don’t miss the pristine 2-strip TechniColor ‘Bosko’ cartoon in the disc’s EXTRAs.)

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