For Reel

Three Who Loved (1931)
March 21, 2014, 9:55 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: George Archainbaud
3.5 Stars
Three Who LovedA melodrama told with impressive efficiency, Three Who Loved stars Betty Compson as Helga, an immigrant from Sweden who intends to marry bank teller and aspiring lawyer John (Conrad Nagel). Her fiancé is so busy studying to pass the bar exam, however, that his best friend Phil (Robert Ames) earns Helga’s affections right under John’s nose. Phil is sent to prison after John steals money from his drawer at work, while John and Helga live freely but trapped in a loveless marriage–he, wrecked with guilt; she, longing for the man who has been incarcerated. Director George Archainbaud was hit-or-miss in this period (his previous collaboration with Compson, The Lady Refuses, is mostly a dud), but here he impressively stages the drama and works in a number of stylistic flourishes, such as the motif of the protective bars at the bank anticipating both the literal jail cell and each character’s own psychological constraints. Nagel, not usually a particularly exciting screen presence, is very good as the ambitious but rather dull young man who is eventually destroyed by his conscious, while Compson tries to fight against the terrible accent she’s saddled with. The most memorable performer is Ames, who would tragically die of apparent alcohol poisoning just months after the film’s release–he’s a heel, but he does earn the audience’s sympathy both in his apparent genuine affection for Compson early on and in the scene in which he is wrongly convicted.

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