25 November 2017 | lugonian
A Life of Her Own
THE TRESPASSER (United Artists, 1929), a Joseph Kennedy Presentation, written and Directed by Edmund Goulding, stars silent screen actress Gloria Swanson (1898-1983) in her talking motion picture debut. Following her success in the title role of the silent edition of SADIE THOMPSON (1928), for which she earned an Academy Award nomination, her performance for THE TRESPASSER also got Swanson her second consecutive nomination in a row. For anyone familiar with the name of Gloria Swanson, should know her best as Norma Desmond in SUNSET BOULEVARD (Paramount, 1950), hailed by many as her greatest movie achievement of her entire career. Though she registered quite well in talkies, the films that followed simply failed to recapture the Swanson legend a decade ago, yet THE TRESPASSER is an exception.
Opening title: "Somewhere in the Loop." Marion Donnell (Gloria Swanson), is an efficient stenographer working for Hector Ferguson (Purnell B. Pratt), a Chicago corporation attorney. Though a good worker liked by many, including Mr. Fuller (Henry B. Walthall), Marion informs Ferguson this to be her last day in his employ, for that she's to go and elope with Jack Merrick (Robert Ames), the only son of a wealthy businessman, John Merrick Sr. (William Holden - NOT the same William Holden of Swanson's SUNSET BOULEVARD). Marion's honeymoon is interrupted by the arrival of Jack's snobbish father, who claims Marion to be a fortune hunter after his money. He talks Jack into annulling the marriage, to follow up with a big engagement and wedding later on. Insulted by his accusations, and feeling Jack not man enough to stand up to his father, Marion walks out on him, much to the pleasure of Merrick. Eighteen months later, Marion, living a life on her own, is the mother of Jack's infant son, while Jack has married debutante and childhood sweetheart, Catherine "Flip" Carson (Kay Hammond), the woman of Merrick's choice. As baby Jackie is looked after during the day by Miss Potter (Blanche Frederici), Marion is back in the employ of Mr. Ferguson. Marion soon suffers from a mental breakdown after learning Jack and his new bride met with a serious automobile smashup while honeymooning in Paris. Ferguson, a married man in love with Marion, helps her out of her financial straits by supplying her a luxury apartment as well as making her his mistress. Later, Ferguson collapses. Being close to death, he sends for Marion to be with him at his home, regardless of his wife's (Mary Forbes) presence by his deathbed. After Ferguson death, Marion finds that he had left her a will entrusting $500,000 to to both her and her baby, but she refuses to accept it. Jack soon learns that he's the father of Marion's three-year- old son (Wally Albright). This soon causes trouble for Marion when Mr. Merrick returns to the scene demanding Jackie be taken away from Marion and placed into the custody of Jack and his wheelchair-bound wife, who's unable to bear forth children of her own.
If the story sounds overly familiar, it was later remade under the direction of Edmund Goulding re-titled THAT CERTAIN WOMAN (Warner Brothers, 1937) starring Bette Davis (Mary); Henry Fonda (Jack); Anita Louise (Flip) and Donald Crisp (Merrick). While parts of the story differs greatly from the original, with the pacing being a bit slower, the screenplay and climax remains basically the same. Aside from Swanson's natural dramatic performance, her rendition to "Love, Your Magic Spell is Everywhere" (by Elsie Janis and Edmund Goulding) and "Toselli Serenade" leaves a bit to be desired. She's a much better actress than a singer. The old looking Robert Ames (1889- 1931) seems miscast as the millionaire playboy, in a role that might have gone to the youthful newcomer, Fredric March. Also in the cast are Henry Armetta (The Barber); Allan Cavan (The Doctor); and Stuart Erwin (The Newspaper Reporter), among others.
Long unseen in decades, THE TRESPASSER (title not to be confused with a Republic 1947 production starring Dale Evans) made its cable television premiere on Turner Classic Movies (TCM Premiere: December 14, 2011), as part of its tribute and film restoration work from the George Eastman House. It's also available on DVD. Clocked at 90 minutes, THE TRESPASSER, which somewhat suffers a little from acid stain film distortion and Swanson's singing, is still entertaining and surprisingly better in style than the better known Bette Davis remake. (***)