Sunday, January 24, 2010

NANA (1934)

Anna Sten is Nana, a scrubmaid in 19th century Paris; when her mother dies, she vows not to be poor or weak, and one year later, she's a successful streetwalker. After she makes a public scene dealing with a drunken sailor, theatrical impresario Richard Bennett hires her to appear in one of his shows. She's a sensation, and army colonel Lionel Atwill, though attracted to her, calls her a "gilded fly, hatched from the gutter." Though kept by Bennett, she begins an affair with Atwill's younger brother, Phillips Holmes. Atwill, trying to break them up, tells Bennett about her affair; he tosses her out of his life and his show. Holmes goes off to war and Sten moves in with her hooker friends from the old days. Thinking it's for the best, they throw away her letter to him, and his to her, so she'll forget about him. Atwill gets her a job in the theatre and becomes her lover and keeper. When Holmes finally returns to Paris, a confrontation between the three turns tragic.

This so-so romantic melodrama, based on a novel by Emile Zola, has become something of a film buff curiosity as it marked the Hollywod debut of the Russian-born Sten. Samuel Goldywn tried to build her up into a Dietrich/Garbo type, but her career never took off. She’s not bad, but she lacks the mystique of Garbo and the sex appeal of Dietrich, though there are many shots in the film in which she looks just like Dietrich. Atwill and Holmes are only OK in their roles, though Bennett (the father of actresses Joan and Constance) is good, as is Mae Clarke as Satin, one of Nana's friends. Also with Reginald Owen and Jessie Ralph. Directed by Dorothy Arzener and lushly photographed by the great Gregg Toland. [TCM]

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