Sunday, August 23, 2009


An early George Cukor film, based on a Somerset Maugham comedy of manners; it aims for Noel Coward or Oscar Wilde territory and misses, but is fitfully amusing. The plot is best laid out as a list of characters. Constance Bennett is Pearl, a rich American hardware store heiress who lives in England and, as the film opens, has just married Lord George; she discovers that his family is essentially broke and he intends to continue dallying with his mistress (so much so that we rarely see him again). Pearl becomes a social butterfly who attracts the paparazzi and despite her sham marriage, she enjoys being the novelty American amongst the titled folks. She soon has a rich lover, Arthur (Minor Watson), who keeps calling her "Girlie" despite her stated dislike for the nickname. Her visiting sister Bessie has a perfectly nice American boyfriend named Fleming, but she toys with accepting a marriage proposal from Lord Harry. The middle-aged Duchess Minnie (Violet Kemble Cooper) is Pearl's best buddy (in rather the same sense that the women in THE WOMEN are best buddies) and is carrying on with Pepe, a handsome gigolo (Gilbert Roland) who we know cheats on her. The only character for whom frivolous affairs does not seem to be the norm is Princess Flora. One weekend during a house party at Pearl's at which all the characters are present, things get tangled up rather nastily when it is discovered that Pearl and Pepe have been carrying on right under Minnie's nose. Minnie makes a big stink, which triggers other tensions that threaten to ruin the weekend--Pearl doesn't care so much about the revelation of her affairs as that Minnie's leaving her house party early will stain her sterling reputation as a hostess. A happy ending, of sorts, is had when Ernest (Tyrell Davis), a highly sought after dance teacher, shows up in the last few minutes and teaches Minnie to tango, which seems to take her mind completely off of her other problems, never mind that Ernest is one of the most flamingly effeminate characters in Hollywood's early sound era.

Though this does play out as a comedy, there aren't a lot of laughs to be had, despite the presence of several one-liners which strive for the level of Wilde or Coward but fail. Two line deliveries stood out for me: When Minnie finds out that Pearl's father got his start selling bananas on the sidewalks of New York, she haughtily declares the banana to be "a most unpleasant vegetable." At the end, when Minnie and Pearl literally kiss and make up, Ernest shrieks, "What an exquisite spectacle! Two ladies of title, kissing one another!" I also liked Pepe's observation that "if one felt about things at night as one does the next morning, life would be an awful lot easier." The actors are generally good, though Bennett wore on me a bit with what grew to be a rather one-note performance. Charles Starrett is handsome as Fleming but he doesn't have much to do. Grant Mitchell, as an American who thinks mistakenly that he's doing a good job passing himself off as English, is a bit low energy, and the Yanks vs. Brits humor is fairly oblique. Cooper and Roland are both excellent, and though some modern viewers may be offended by Tyrell Davis' over-the-top flamboyance, complete with eye shadow and huge bee-stung lips, his brief scene does make for a memorable climax. A fun movie as long as you're not expecting one of Cukor's classics. [TCM]


Faith Cooper said...

I want to see this old movie. Maybe I'll just a dvd movie of it.

Good Post!

Anonymous said...

I would like to know if Tyrell Davis is related to Drew Barrymore! After seeing him deliver the line that starts with "Excuse me for coming in my town clothes...", I am convinced he is!