Monday, June 23, 2003

MILLIE (1931)

The actress Helen Twelvetrees has such a unique name, I've always wanted to see a movie of hers. Now that I have, I can safely say that her name is the most memorable thing about her. She's not bad in this fairly interesing melodrama, but the supporting cast outshines her. Twelevetrees is the long-suffering title heroine, whom we first see as a town girl being lusted after by some college boys. From their conversation, it's unclear what her reputation is, but at any rate, she's getting married to James Hall, a businessman from the big city. She has some wedding night jitters, but then we abruptly jump ahead three years; she has a daughter and her husband, she discovers, has a mistress. With some bolstering from gal pals Joan Blondell and Lilyan Tashman, she leaves Hall. Her line to him, "I don't care where I'm seen as long as I'm not seen with you," is reminiscent of Norma Sherear's similar line to her cheating hubby in THE DIVORCEE ("You're the only man in the world my door is closed to"). Millie then gets involved in a string of bad relationships. She moves in with a reporter (Robert Ames) who seems like a nice guy, but who also ends up cheating on her. John Halliday is a longtime admirer who she keeps putting off, and who, years later, has dastardly designs on Millie's teenage daughter (Anita Louise). Halliday takes the girl to his lodge, but Millie finds out and arrives just in time to shoot Halliday. The climax is the court case, where Millie hurts her own chances with the jury by not revealing her motive, hoping her daughter won't get dragged through the mud.

Blondell and Tashman wind up being far more interesting than Twelvetrees. They seem to be subtly coded as lesbians. We first see them sharing a bed, with a landlady present waiting for the rent money. The two are inseparable until Blondell, in a priceless scene, announces her decision to marry for money: "I feel I've done all I can with the present situation," she says, exchanging a loaded glance with Tashman. Twelevetrees and Tashman have a nice scene where, both a bit tipsy, they rail against men ("Nothing but tramps!"). Tashman also has a great, and given the context, wonderfully ambigious line, "When I'm through with a man, I'm just beginning." Frank McHugh has a supporting role as a reporter, and he has his own "queer" moment, mincing through a song called "It's Nice to be a Geranium" at a drunken party. Some long, stagy takes slow the pace occasionally, but it's fairly easy to watch and its pre-Code elements add to the enjoyment.

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