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Monday, December 21, 2015

CONFESSION (1937)

Irresistible trash. Or rather, ‘twash,’ in honor of Kay Francis’s famously weak ‘r.’ Francis, a great louché force in Pre-Code days, was in decline @ Warners, but producer Hal Wallis gave her quite the lux production here. Including a glamorously delayed third-reel entrance, after classical musician (and serial seducer) Basil Rathbone digs his romantic claws into underwhelming teen virgin Jane Bryan. Kay, a past Rathbone victim, may have sunk from operatic Mezzo-Soprano to nightclub chanteuse, but she spots the canoodling couple in a private box and quickly sizes up the situation. How lucky that a marksman follows her on the bill with a backstage table full of loaded pistols! The rest of the film plays out at her trial, as she explains all in a big grand, tawdry flashback filled with tears, illicit romance, marriage, war, amputation (!) & motherly sacrifice. Oh, Kay!!!; so wronged, so stained, so noble. So delicious. Rathbone is tremendous here, falling in love for real . . . each & every time. As husband/father/cuckold, Ian Hunter is not so tremendous (though looks amusingly like DOWNTON ABBEY’S Hugh Bonneville). Director Joe May can’t do much with those first two reels, but sit tight, he turns it on once Kay shows up. A Big Man back in his German/UFA days (HOMECOMING/’28; ASPHALT/’29), he’s a little like Hollywood’s William K. Howard in finding fabulous shots for situations and then not able to tie them properly together. Still, piece-by-piece, quite a technique! And watch for that fine vulgarian Laura Hope Crews who’d just played the same bawdy gal-pal specialty against Garbo in CAMILLE/’36.

DOUBLE-BILL: For Francis at her best, go to 1932 with ONE WAY PASSAGE or TROUBLE IN PARADISE among seven releases; plus co-stars like Ronald Colman, Fredric March, William Powell & Herbert Marshall.

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