Turner Classic Movies showed this a few days ago and, curious to see how it differed from the glossy Lana Turner/Ross Hunter-produced Technicolor version of almost thirty years later, I tuned in. There were a few differences, of course, in the way the familiar plot was developed, but, oh my goodness! Gladys George just blew me away! She towered above the proceedings with a performance that is just amazing.
TCM's host, Robert Osborne, in some concluding remarks after the film's closing scene faded from the tube, advised that Tyrone Power was to have been loaned to appear as Ms. George's son in this version, in a complex deal with 20th Century Fox that involved Clark Gable and Jean Harlow (from the M-G-M side of the ledger) and Shirley Temple and Tyrone from 20th. But Harlow's sudden death caused the deal to fall through (thus permitting posterity to be graced with Judy Garland as Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz" rather than Shirley, whom M-G-M had really wanted for their extravaganza) and Tyrone didn't come to M-G-M until the following year for his relatively small role in "Marie Antoinette."
The result, as far as the 1937 version of this oft-filmed weepie is concerned, was that M-G-M gave it a little less than "A" production values, but the performance of Ms. George in the title role makes that of small consequence, indeed. She's utterly believable, especially as she slides into slatternly alcoholism during the latter half of the picture. Osborne also revealed that, as the years wore on, Gladys became a bit too fond of the bottle in real life, accounting for her relegation to supporting roles. But there's no way she was under the influence when her inebriated scenes were filmed during this production's abbreviated shooting schedule. She's a professional here, at the peak of her powers, and they're close to tremendous, especially in the final, over-wrought courtroom scenes. Lana wasn't half-bad in the remake, but she benefited from the passage of nearly three decades since Ms. George had made the role her own. What a star!
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