Saturday, July 08, 2006


A fine old-fashioned (and here I mean that in the best possible way) melodrama which gave Bette Davis her first substantial lead, with George Arliss, who would become her mentor. He plays a renowned concert pianist at the peak of his career who feels his life is ruined when he goes deaf; it's explained that deafness runs in his family, but it seems to come on all at once when an anarchist's bomb explodes right outside his window while he's playing the "Moonlight Sonata" for a European king (whom the anarchists are chasing--don't ask, it's just a creaky plot device). After months of feeling sorry for himself (and keeping most of his friends at a distance) because the joy of his piano has been taken away from him, he is finally persuaded to learn to read lips. He discovers that, with the help of a pair of binoculars, he can read the lips of passers-by outside his window who stroll through Central Park and he takes to "playing God" with them, secretly sending financial help to people who need it. Davis plays a much younger woman, a close friend of Arliss' who was infatuated with him and proposed to him before his deafness occurred. Though she still loves him and seems more than willing to go through with the planned marriage, she has fallen in love with Donald Cook, a man much closer to her own age. By coincidence (!!!), Davis and Cook discuss their situation in the park. Guess who eavesdrops? Guess who winds up stepping gracefully out of the picture so Davis can be happy? Arliss was 65, playing a 50-year-old, and the makeup to make him look younger than his years is obvious, but aside from that, he is quite fine in a part that calls for some over-the-top emoting from time to time. His best scene is when he rages against God for taking away his life's joy, the ability to hear music. Davis is good, although Ivan Simpson, who plays Arliss' stiff but faithful butler, steals most of his scenes; he is especially good when he saves Arliss from an attempted suicide. Cook is the first of a series of actors throughout the next several years who appear opposite Davis and who wind up wiped off the screen, or at best, come off as mannequins (see also George Brent, Richard Barthelmess, Franchot Tone, and Paul Henried). Louise Closser Hale is fine as Arliss' sister and secretary, as is Violet Heming as another admirer of Arliss'. Hedda Hopper and Ray Milland have small roles. Solid melodrama that is a little dated but nonetheless still worth seeing. [TCM]

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