Five minutes into this Pre-Code/ Early Talkie beauty, the essence of M-G-M’s hold on Depression-Era audiences is caught in a single scene, almost a single shot, as Joan Crawford’s small-town factory girl gazes in wonder as a series of train cars, lit from inside against the encroaching night, slowly glides by, displaying a world of riches & luxury she’s only dared to imagine. Each window a living diorama of upperclass wish fulfillment: immaculate chefs in white; a personal housemaid ironing your things; a romantic couple dancing in a private car three windows long; finally, on this moving stage set of dreams, a gentleman sitting on the rear platform to offer you a glass of champagne. It’s a rare show of unblinking class envy & desire, one the film will spend its time filling up as Crawford leaves Wallace Ford’s local butter-and-egg man on the spot to head toward city dreams. Once there, she’s quick to find a likely protector in Clark Gable’s up-and-coming lawyer with political ambitions. But a nasty divorce has left the man gun-shy, so Joan’s quickly acquired sophistication makes her consort rather than wife. Years later, her small town beau has moved up in the world just as Gable’s rising political fortunes necessitate her disappearance. Here the dramatic corn starts getting laid on pretty thick, but Gable & Crawford’s late scenes, including her big renunciation, find them at an early peak of gorgeousness, so much is forgiven; even an ending Frank Capra couldn’t have pulled off. Clarence Brown does a honey of a job directing here; strong perfs all ‘round (Crawford warm & pliable, before she developed that hard abstract edge) with densely worked out location shooting for the early factory town scenes. But it’s that early train reverie you’ll remember, a defining moment, remarkably self-aware and glowingly shot by Oliver T. Marsh.
CONTEST: Taken from a play with a less up-front heroine by Edgar Selwyn, a man who can lay claim to a piece of the M-G-M studio name. Explain why to win a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of your choice.