Thursday, July 20, 2006


I enjoyed this predictable soap opera for the chance to see two supporting players of the 30's whose careers petered out by the end of the decade: Eric Linden and Gwili Andre. The stars of this undistinguished, melodramatic twaddle are Charles Bickford and Irene Dunne. He is a hard-working but unambitious and uncouth steelworker who is happy bringing home just enough money to live on; she is his wife who runs a boarding house and has dreams of making it big, or more precisely, of her husband making it big. When a boarder (Eric Linden) who likes to mess around with chemistry comes up a new dye formula, Dunne sees its potential and talks Bickford into investing their life savings in a company designed to exploit the new discovery. The one surprise in the plot happens here: I was sure that Bickford would lose his shirt and resent Dunne and Linden, discover they're having an affair, and maybe even plot to kill them, but instead, the company becomes a wild success, and Linden and Dunne remain platonic friends. Bickford winds up buying out a competing company and building a huge industrial complex. In addition to taking on the nice manners of the upper classes, he also takes on their morality and has a torrid affair with big city sexpot Gwili Andre. Dunne catches him and Andre insists that he divorce Dunne to marry her. He tries to, but Dunne fights it, so he bribes a host of family friends and workers to testify that Dunne is an adulteress so he can get his divorce and get custody of their child. The climax is a nasty courtroom battle in which Dunne calls Bickford's bluff in a dramatic fashion.

Dunne is fine, but Bickford is colorless, even when he gets a potentially juicy drunk scene early in the film. Linden's character is ill-defined; I thought in the beginning that he was Bickford's kid brother, but he's not. Maybe he winds up gay, or a chemistry geek, or both. A character (Lelia Bennett) who helps out at Dunne's boarding house seems downright mentally handicapped, but there's no clear sign that this is an intended interpretation. The biggest problem in terms of plot is the lawyer, played by J. Carroll Naish; apparently, he was Andre's lover before Bickford came along, and perhaps after as well, though that is not make clear. He's the one who represents Bickford in court, but to no apparent larger purpose. The movie is not quite an hour long, and perhaps some of these plot points were left on the cutting room floor (perhaps by producer David O. Selznick back in his early RKO days). It's not a terrible movie, but it could have been better with sharper writing and someone like Joel McCrea in the male lead. [TCM]

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