9 August 2003 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Too much varnish, 'Tarnish' lacks garnish
**SPOILERS**'Tarnish' is a surprisingly racy story for 1924, although by modern standards it will seem very tame indeed. The film features an impressive cast, and a fine script by the prolific Frances Marion. The direction by George Fitzmaurice is proficient without being especially distinctive.
May McAvoy plays a young woman named Letitia (oo-er!) who can't get ahead because her wastrel father spends all available funds on Prohibition hooch and fast living. She is engaged to Emmet Carr (Ronald Colman, dashing and handsome as ever), and the two of them have a chance of happiness together. But Emmet has a bit on the side: a manicurist named Nettie Dark(!), played by the vivacious Marie Prevost. The dialogue titles are circumspect about the precise nature of their relationship, but the eye contact and body language between Colman and Prevost make it clear that their characters are having a sexual relationship.
SPOILERS COMING. Nettie threatens to ruin Emmet's chance for happiness with Letitia by revealing her own relationship with Emmet. But then it turns out that Letitia's father has also been having it on with Nettie. (Busy girl!) Emmet and Letty end up in each other's arms; Nettie is humiliated, and there is some unconvincing assertion that Letty's father will reform.
'Tarnish' is a very dated film, largely due to the character that Marie Prevost plays: that's a reflection on the role as it's scripted, not her performance. Nettie Dark is that misogynist stereotype: a 'bad girl' who makes trouble for men, merely because she CAN. Neither Emmet Carr nor Adolph Tevis (Letty's father) is especially wealthy, so it's clear that Nettie's pursuit of them isn't gold-digging: she just seems to enjoy tempting men into destructive relationships, and then ruining them.
Matters are not helped in this movie by the bad make-up job on actor Albert Gran, who plays Letty's father Adolph. He looks like Santa's evil twin. Gran is equipped with a blatantly phony mane of snowy white hair, with bushy white eyebrows and moustache to match ... all of them equally unconvincing. He doesn't have a beard, but if he had one that matched the rest of this bad make-up job he'd be the Doppelganger of Father Christmas.
There's an amusing scene early in the film, when Nettie vamps Emmet in the hairdresser's shop where she works. Seated in the barber's chair, Colman gets a haircut and a manicure at the same time. He and Marie Prevost flirt outrageously. The humour in this scene is supplied by Harry Myers as the barber, who rolls his eyes and tries to suppress his laughter in reaction to the rather purple dialogue emerging from Colman and Prevost (courtesy of the intertitles). 'Something for the weekend, sir?'
Kay Deslys is good in a small role as a neighbour; whilst Snitz Edwards, as her husband, is his usual annoying self. I'll rate 'Tarnish' 4 out of 10.