Wednesday, December 03, 2014


Oscar Wilde's gift was his wit: his funny, sarcastic, ironic comments on life by which he practically invented the sensibility known as camp. However, I've always found his plays, with their somewhat tortured plots, difficult to sit through. Mainly they seem to be excuses for him to provide his humorous asides. I saw a production of Lady Windermere's Fan at the Shaw Festival a couple of summers ago and, though there was some fun to be had following the domestic melodrama plot machinations, mostly the audience seemed to be waiting for the biting bon mots, which were sprinkled liberally throughout. In this Wilde adaptation, politician Hugh Williams is about to go before Parliament and put a stop to an Argentinean canal project that he knows is a boondoggle. But the night before his appearance, a shady woman from his past (Paulette Goddard) shows up at a grand party to blackmail him: she has a financial interest in the scheme and she has evidence that, early in his career, he engaged in questionable practices to get ahead, so she threatens to go public with the information unless he agrees to back the canal. His wife (Diana Wynyard) is upset but wants him to do the right thing. Meanwhile, a young man-about-town (Michael Wilding) tries to intercede for Williams—he knows a nasty little secret about Goddard that he tries to use to stop her plans. But will Goddard wind up getting the best of both men?

The main reason to watch this is for its look—beautiful Technicolor explodes across the screen in every scene. The women wear gauzy rainbows of pastel colors and the backgrounds are full of beautiful appointments, paintings, and furniture. The plot is drudgery and the acting is weak, especially from Goddard who sticks out like a sore, overacting thumb against the dull underacting of Williams and Wynyard as his wife. The bright spots are Wilding, handsome and charming as the chief spouter of witty epigrams (along with Goddard), and a very young Glynis Johns (pictured) as the looker who is chasing after Wilding and who jokingly spars with Wilding's father, C. Aubrey Smith, over Wilding's playboy nature. Very nice to look at, less pleasant to pay attention to. [TCM]

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