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Friday, June 30, 2017

SMART WOMAN (1931)

Early Talkie from Gregory La Cava runs the old story of a straying husband who mends his ways when led to believe the wife is enjoying a fling of her own. Tepid stuff, but worth a look to see La Cava abruptly figuring out how to accommodate sound. While most of the film follows the dialogue like a dog trolling for a treat, signs of cinema keep popping up. Note how spurned wife Mary Astor (sharp & charming) greets faux love interest John Halliday in overhead shots, with camera movement, composition in depth and a grand staircase giving rhythm & pace to vapid drawing room dramatics. Real filmmaking!; back from the dead zone of Early Talkie technical tyranny. (And giving a brief glimpse at the Gregory La Cava of MY MAN GODFREY/’36 & STAGE DOOR/’37.) It’s also a rare chance to see Robert Ames, a might-have-been star who drank himself to death by the end of the year at only 42. In a lousy part, love-blind hubby falling for blonde Golddigger while Astor pines, he’s expert at the task. No wonder he made 20 pics in less than three years. The film’s an antique, of mostly historic/technical interest, but La Cava & Astor fans should dig in.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The big other might-have-been star from 1931 was Robert Williams, co-star with Loretta Young & Jean Harlow in Frank Capra’s PLATINUM BLONDE/’31. Dead from appendicitis that year at 37. On screen, he was a bit like Lee Tracy who was a might-have-been star who didn’t die, but peed his career away. Literally. On a drunk during the filming of VIVA VILLA/’34 he pissed over his hotel balcony and on to some Mexican Cadets marching below.

DOUBLE-BILL: Three from this film, Ames, Astor & Edward Everett Horton co-star with Ann Harding in an excellent, if stagebound, version of HOLIDAY/’30, the great Philip Barry play best known from George Cukor’s ‘38 beauty with Kate Hepburn, Cary Grant & a repeating Horton. Yet, the earlier film is unexpectedly fine, and Mary Astor, a far stronger sisterly rival than Doris Nolan was in the redo, serves the drama as revelation.

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