Sunday, February 23, 2003


A fabulous slice of Cecil B. DeMille ham, too long and fairly ludicrous for most of its running time, but with a great last hour which must be seen to be believed. The plot is traditional pre-Code romantic melodrama; the marriage of Kay Johnson and Reginald Denny is in trouble, as Denny is having a fling with young floozy Lillian Roth. Johnson, accused by Denny of being "below zero," sulks for a while until her maid bursts out in song (yes, it's sort of a musical) with advice about fighting back. Johnson replies in spoken verse and decides to spice things up by attending a costume ball in disguise as Madam Satan and seducing her husband away from Roth. The movie breaks down nicely into a traditional three act structure: Act 1 is Denny being caught in his philandering, Act 2 is a bedroom farce (which drags at times) with Denny, Johnson, Roth, and Denny's drinking buddy Roland Young all hiding things from each other in Roth's spacious hotel room. This first half of the film is too long and tedious, though Young is very good, as usual, doing a variation on the persona he perfected as Uncle Willy in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY.

Act 3, the last half, is set at a decadent costume ball thrown by Young in a zeppelin moored high above New York City. DeMille clearly threw himself into this part, with tons of wild costumes, wonderfully bizarre sets, a grand, over-the-top musical number about the power of electricity (no fooling!), and a spectacular thunderstorm that threatens to turn the last 15 minutes of the film into DeMille's TITANIC. The witty repartee of the first half, though sometimes not particularly well delivered, was all that kept me going until the zeppelin party. Johnson and Denny are bland; I was thinking Chester Morris and Irene Dunne might have pulled it off. I'm not crazy about Roth--she overacts as badly here as she did in ANIMAL CRACKERS. I would still wholeheartedly recommend this for fans of 30's films, for the wild party alone.

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