For Reel


Smart Woman (1931)
April 3, 2014, 7:35 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Gregory La Cava
3.5 Stars
Smart WomanGregory La Cava directed a number of fine women’s pictures throughout his undervalued career. Stage Door is perhaps the most beloved example, though a word could be said for two other quality Ginger Rogers pictures: Primrose Path and Fifth Avenue Girl. The aptly titled Smart Woman similarly appeals to the female audience by concerning itself with a tenacious woman (Mary Astor) who seeks revenge on her husband (Robert Ames) when she discovers that he has been having an affair while she’s been gone caring for her ailing mother. That she ever forgives him is questionable (he gets off pretty easy, all things considered), but she does get to have her fun torturing him by pretending to be in love with an impressive foreign suitor (John Halliday) and showing little concern about his decision to get a divorce. Astor is delightful and the film’s best moments are those in which the audience is let into the cracks behind her smiling, “modern” (as she puts it) facade–she acts as though Ames hasn’t hurt her, but a handful of telling glances convey the depth of her despair. Although many films made this early in the sound era (especially those based on this type of single-setting play) were overly stagy, La Cava and cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca favor an abundance of character developing close-ups and a frequently moving camera. Additionally, the film involves an interesting early sound experiment in which the roar of an approaching car engine is exaggerated in order to convey Astor’s sense of dread.

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