For Reel

A Wicked Woman (1934)
August 8, 2014, 1:36 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Charles Brabin
2.5 Stars
A Wicked WomanAustrian-born Mady Christians enjoyed success on the stage and screen in Germany prior to her arrival at MGM with A Wicked Woman, a melodrama about the plentitude of sacrifices made by a mother for her children. The early scenes are very promising–it’s a black night, with raucous amusements confined to a jazz bar while our heroine is confronted by her drunk, abusive husband. A quick scuffle leads to his death. Director Charles Brabin and cinematographer Lester White use high-contrast lighting to give texture to the run down home on the swamp, and that only heightens when Christians disposes of the body while lit only by crashing bolts of lightning. A long shot of her rowing a boat in a lake, with her ghostly pale face framed in a black cloak, is an image that evokes Charon, the ferryman of the dead from Greek mythology. From thereon, as Christians establishes a wholesome life for her three children, the weepy gets sidetracked with sub-plots that either go nowhere or wreak havoc on the tone (has there ever been a more unlikely romantic pairing that Betty Furness and Sterling Holloway?). Christians plays big, with her guilt and worries recessed deep into her face in every shot, but it mainly works. Despite her efforts and the strength of her character, however, the screenplay fails to make anything of her children (Furness, Jean Pearker, and William Henry) or the man who loves her (Charles Bickford).