For Reel


The Lady of Scandal (1930)
July 24, 2012, 1:33 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Sidney Franklin

Adapted from playwright Frederick Lonsdale’s drawing room comedy The High Road, The Lady of Scandal is a satisfying melodrama with enough wit to overcome the stuffiness expected of the genre in the earliest years of sound. Ruth Chatterton plays a star of the stage who is initially met with great vitriol as she visits the family of her aristocratic fiancee, played by her then real-life husband Ralph Forbes. Not before long, she provokes a rejuvenating change in the dour household and falls for a cousin of the man that she is to marry. Basil Rathbone, as the object of affection, is for once surprisingly outmatched in flatness by the wooden Forbes, however Chatterton is charming as ever and the rest of the supporting cast is game. What most distinguishes the picture from lesser films of its breed – such as the 1929 adaptation of Lonsdale’s The Last of Mrs. Cheyney – is an impressive visual sophistication credited to cinematographers Oliver T. Marsh and Arthur C. Miller. Quite often, shots are framed looking down hallways, with characters positioned in each plane of the frame in order to establish maximum depth. Rathbone’s entrance is characteristic of the early sound works of Rouben Mamoulian, with a lengthy tracking shot providing a sense of three-dimensional space that was missing from many of the stagebound films of 1929 and 1930.



The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1929)
March 1, 2012, 10:27 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Sidney Franklin

Adapted from the highly successful Broadway play of the same name, The Last of Mrs. Cheyney was the first picture with a soundtrack to be produced for MGM. With the technology still archaic, it is not unlike other early talkie efforts from the same year – stagey, with inconsistent performances, and filmed without sophisticated camera movements. Nevertheless, director Sidney Franklin wisely incorporates a few early experiments with the new innovation, such as a sequence in which party guests are suggested with a use of chatter on the soundtrack despite not being present on the screen. While some of the performers are excessive, the great Norma Shearer, accomplished during the silent years, brings a dignity and the needed charisma to the character of a woman who is so agreeable that she can charm her way out of potential imprisonment. The plot, which was later adapted in 1937 under the same name and in 1951 as The Law and the Lady, concerns a group of jewel thieves, led by Shearer, who poses as a widow in order to earn the trust of wealthy aristocrats. On her tail in this adaptation is Basil Rathbone, a womanizer who, for the first time, is considering marriage having fallen for the appealing grifter. Shearer’s character is a strong, enterprising, modern woman who gets by using her intellect, however the title refers to a poorly-conceived rebirth in which she sheds her thieving past for a life as an obedient wife. The picture is of some interest for fans of the pre-Code era because it contains a character who is frequently alluded to within the text as being a homosexual (even he, however, is seduced by the divine Shearer).