For Reel

The Animal Kingdom (1932)
August 16, 2012, 7:56 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Edward H. Griffith

Hollywood found significant success in adapting the work of playwright Philip Barry with George Cukor’s Holiday and The Philadelphia Story, released in 1938 and 1940 respectively. Prior to those classics, a significantly more dramatic play, entitled The Animal Kingdom, was adapted by producer David O. Selznick and became a turning point in the career of Myrna Loy, who had up to that time been playing Eastern sirens in films like The Mask of Fu Manchu. Her performance in the picture is not much of a stretch – again, she plays a manipulative beauty – but she has a fine understatement that was, for obvious reasons, not optimal in “vamp” roles. Leslie Howard stars as a book publisher who has a live-in relationship with an artist played by Ann Harding. Pressured by his father, he agrees to marry Loy, who dictates his career by convincing him to publish less artistically satisfying but significantly higher-selling pulp novels. Few pictures of the period explore the relationships of artists more satisfactorily – both Howard and Harding make questionable career choices and they openly criticize one another for them, not so much mean-spiritedly but rather as a display of affection and mutual respect. When Howard tells Harding that her exhibit was not particularly good, what he means to say is that she can do better. Such details contribute to fine understatement in the dialogue, but director Edward H. Griffith doesn’t have much of a visual sense and as such the picture falls into the trap of other stage-play adaptations of the period, feeling all-too stilted. Howard and Harding don’t make a convincing couple, although Harding, with a low voice and an atypical beauty, makes an argument for herself as having a career worth further investigation.

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