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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

THE WHITE ANGEL (1936)

Kay Francis, Our Lady of Louche, Warners’ Pre-Code provocation in plunging décolletage, is certainly a long shot for Crimean War über-nurse Florence Nightingale. Especially in one of those hagiographic bio-pics William Dieterle was starting to specialize in, the second of six helmed. Yet, if the script never quite locates enough dramatic line to hang a feature on, the standards of fact-to-fiction are reasonably met, and the mid-section with Nurse Nightingale overcoming hostile military routine (deftly filleted in sharp perfs by Donald Crisp & Montague Love) to clean up the mess that passed for hospital care has an honest magnificence simply as studio product, largely due to the thrilling professionalism of lenser Tony Gaudio & great art director Anton Grot. The expressive tomb-like atmosphere they create makes up for much that’s glossed over in the film’s streamlined narrative. A major flop in its day, it’s no embarrassment. Though no one would exchange this buttoned up Kay for the naughty Ms. Francis of her hedonist heyday.

DOUBLE-BILL: Once acclaimed, Dieterle’s bio-pics have long fallen from favor. Yet they still work on their own simplified/generalized terms; and better than that in his slightly loony JUAREZ/’39 and the more than slightly remarkable DR. EHRLICH’S MAGIC BULLET/’40.

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