Kathleen Winsor probably had VANITY FAIR in mind while writing this randy period romp, but the film goes all Scarlett O’Hara and JEZEBEL/’38. Linda Darnell (distractingly blonde, but you get used to it) is Restoration England’s most ambitious vixen, flirting her way onto the lap of society, yet longing only for dashing privateer Cornel Wilde. We’re barely a step & a half above a typical romance novel, but where’s the juicy fun of (say) Margaret Lockwood in THE WICKED LADY/’45? No one seems to connect between the non-stop crises, dealt like a reshuffled deck of story beats from GONE WITH THE WIND/’39. Otto Preminger’s faceless megging doesn’t help though it surely looked better in the original prints. (The Fox Archive DVD is, at best, a dull facsimile of Leon Shamroy’s TechniColor lensing.) And the huge cast holds merely two standouts: George Sanders as a mischievous, dog-loving, sardonic Charles II; and the unfortunate Jane Ball, showstoppingly awful as Wilde’s American bride. So bad, it ended her career as abruptly as this film's pull-the-plug, truncated finish. A big hit just the same.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: The time period is different, but Rouben Mamoulian’s VANITY FAIR adaptation, BECKY SHARP/’35, the first 3-strip TechniColor feature, shows how AMBER might have worked. Still waiting for the UCLA Restoration to become available, meanwhile follow the link to see what you’re missing: http://www.cinema.ucla.edu/restoration/becky-sharp-1935-restoration