For Reel

Transgression (1931)
April 20, 2012, 1:34 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Herbert Brenon

Kay Francis’ star was on the rise in the early thirties after her noted performances in pictures like A Notorious Affair, The Virtuous Sin, and Ladies’ Man at Paramount. It was RKO, however, that perhaps most influenced the fruitful course that her career would take over the new decade. On loan from her home studio, RKO’s Transgression accompanied the top-billed Francis with impressive sets, a talented supporting cast, and a noted director of the silent era, helping to establish her as a leading lady and a go-to talent for this brand of high melodrama. The film is elevated above many of its adulterous brethren for its intelligent, dignified treatment of Francis, who comes into her own as a woman without ever feeling as though she’s being shamed, as even the risky pre-Code pictures were wont to do. In the first act, her husband, a businessman, uproots the budding relationship when he leaves to spend a year in India for his work. These early scenes establish the already problematic relationship, and particularly his prioritization of his career over his wife. One can hardly blame Francis, then, for being swept away by a Spanish aristocrat who initially seeks to spoil her with tremendous adoration and respect. She heeds his advances with reluctance, and eventually accompanies him to his villa, where his less-than-ideal intentions are finally revealed. The way that Francis plays these moments at the mansion – with a thunderstorm raging outside, echoing her own inner anguish – suggests that she acknowledges the character’s naivety, but nonetheless understands the tragic plight of a woman who has been discarded and feels trapped in a precarious marriage. Director Herbert Brenon had trouble adjusting to talkies and, indeed, he makes some unusual choices in the picture – such as shots in which a wide-eyed Francis stares directly into the camera to deliver key lines – but Francis’ talents, as well as the great production values, provide much pleasure for fans of the genre.

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