For Reel

The Unholy Garden (1931)
September 22, 2014, 3:31 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: George Fitzmaurice
2.5 Stars
The Unholy GardenThe debonair Ronald Colman was an odd casting choice for the duplicitous crook at the center of The Unholy Garden, an atmospheric melodrama about a gentleman thief. Colman’s affable screen presence had much to do with his projection of a simple honesty–while he is not recognizably “us” (even William Powell was earthbound by comparison), a sinner he is not. As Barrington Hunt, a notorious thief, he spends much of the film attempting to outsmart his companions by making empty promises of sharing the loot from his newest target. More problematic than Colman’s casting is Fay Wray’s performance as the woman who sets him straight. She is wrought to be an incompetent waif–when she’s on screen with Colman, he simply eats her up. Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur are credited with the script, however it is believed that their attention towards the following year’s Scarface made this effort a rush job. That explains the unremarkable dialogue and the general forgettability of the proceedings, even if George Barnes and an uncredited Gregg Toland beautifully photograph the eery desert setting. Those looking for a similar look at lowlifes in a memorably seedy outpost should seek out William A. Wellman’s 1931 masterpiece Safe in Hell.

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