Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Theoretically, this is a modern retelling of Flaubert's Madame Bovary, set among the upper class in Rye, New York, but aside from the central situation, it bears little resemblance to the novel (as I recall it from my college days). H.B. Warner is a doctor who is called to the bedside of a dying man, the father of Joyce Compton. Warner's son (Lyle Talbot), who had been attending the man, can do no more. Neither, as it turns out, can Warner. But he is surprised to discover that Talbot and Compton have been secretly married—the expectation was that he would marry Lila Lee, a woman closer to his own class. No one expects it to last: Lee says to Warner, "He's brought home another stray kitten," and Warner replies, "Yes, and we're all going to get fleas." Soon, after the couple gets high-hatted at the fancy 400 Club, Compton does get a little itchy, but two tennis-playing playboys offer to scratch that itch. During the summer, Compton buys a cottage so she can shack up with one of the playboys but Warner finds out about it and tries to keep the truth from his son; things generally go south from there until, when the playboy tires of her, she tries to kill herself.

This B-movie exemplifies many of the problems that plagued early talkies: an immobile camera, stilted acting, stagy set-ups, no background score, and weak writing. The one interesting twist is in the casting: the dark, sultry Lila Lee plays the good girl, and the blond, wholesome Joyce Compton plays the bad girl. Lee is fine but her talents feel mostly untapped; despite getting higher billing than Compton, she doesn't have much to do. Compton doesn't seem very naughty—her voice is high and bouncy like that of the fine comic actress Una Merkel—and her character is given almost no background, so unlike with Madame Bovary, we have very little reason to empathize with her, or even to dislike her as a standard homewrecker. I like Talbot (pictured with Compton), but by the halfway point, he's largely written out of the plot. He does get a good line early on: "Don't hate me just because I'm a tongue-tied mug." Jason Robards Sr. is one of the playboys. A ponderous melodrama, only for fans of the cast members. [YouTube]

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