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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

SMILIN' THROUGH (1932)

Insufferable romantic claptrap, in M-G-M’s signature Early Talkie style: chintzy taste; stolid camera work; ersatz British refinement; Mid-Atlantic accents. Based on a whopper of a play by Janes Cowl & Murfin, it was silent in ‘21 (same director Sidney Franklin), and musicalized for Jeanette MacDonald in ‘41. A tragic backstory has Fredric March, as rival suitor, take a pot shot at the wedding of Leslie Howard & Norma Shearer. A generation on, Howard still mourns his loss while March’s son (also played by March) falls for Howard’s niece (also played by Shearer.) Luckily(?), WWI intervenes to sort things out. Franklin’s helming is alarmingly stiff in the first two acts, slightly livelier post-war. But the writing & acting! Howard, already showing good form in THE ANIMAL KINGDOM that year, looks faintly embarrassed; March mans up to pull off a cornball renunciation scene; but what to make of Shearer?, tossing in a carefree laugh at the end of every God-damn line until you want to strangle her. (Who wouldn't want to strangle someone named 'Moonyeen?') And this from her best period when she normally played ‘daring’ Pre-Code ladies in slinky, revealing outfits. Here, she prefigures the worst of her latter Great-Lady-of-the-Theatre manner. Naturally, the film got a Best Pic nod from the Academy. The one dud on a still highly entertaining list. LINK: http://www.imdb.com/event/ev0000003/1934?ref_=ttawd_ev_1

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Though still very 1932 in sentiment, style & technique, the Frank Borzage/Gary Cooper/Helen Hayes version of another WWI tragic romance, Hemingway’s A FAREWELL TO ARMS, no less (see below), puts this film to shame on every level. Look for the uncensored cut. (BTW: Borzage also directed the 1941 Jeanette MacDonald SMILIN’ THROUGH.)

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: The theme song for this version, as in 1941, was written as a tie-in for the silent film. (See sheet music cover to your left.)

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