Thursday, January 24, 2002


If you want to know what all the fuss is about concerning "pre-Code" movies, watch this one. It's full of sex and sin and blase attitudes toward marriage. On top of all that, it's got a strange, unstable tone that veers wildly from low comedy to satire to melodrama in seconds, which keeps the viewer rather pleasantly off-kilter. According to "Sin in Soft Focus," a wonderful book about the pre-Code era, MGM tweaked the film after disasterous previews so that people would know it was a comedy, and it was eventually a big hit.

The opening montage of Harlow at her sexiest is a kick. "Can you see through this dress?" she asks the saleslady; "Why, yes you can," is the reply; "Then, I'll wear it," Harlow says, and we can indeed see for ourselves that the saleslady is right. Harlow makes no bones about intending to get ahead using sex and she aims herself right at her rich boss, Chester Morris, who does a nice job balancing tough and tender (not to mention confused) throughout. She destroys Morris's marriage, and the scene where this is clinched is truly wild, with Morris slapping her around, Harlow begging for more, and a key strategically slipped between heaving breasts. For some of the film, I was on Harlow's side, but toward the end, she goes overboard and I was confused about the "moral center" of the film. In this way, I was reminded of the tone of EMPLOYEE'S ENTRANCE, where despite Warren William's underhanded cruelty, we still have some smidgen of sympathy for him. Also, both pre-Code films let the immoral lead characters get away relatively scot-free.

The acting all around is very good--in addition to Harlow and Morris, Una Merkel is fun as Harlow's roomie (who continues to room with her even when she gets married!!), Henry Stephenson is good as an older man who gets tangled up in Harlow's clutches, and Lewis Stone is, well, Lewis Stone (as always) as Morris' father. One of my favorites, May Robson, is underused in a small part. If you're a fan of Harlow or Morris or pre-Code films, this is a must-see, with Harlow at her hottest.

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