13 May 2010 | JohnHowardReid
Wellman On Top of His Game in 1929!
At least one masterful director was not fazed by the introduction of sound. His name: William A. Wellman. Woman Trap (1929) is a wonderful example of his seemingly facile yet remarkably skillful and highly inventive style. The plot would seem fairly routine but Wellman has unobtrusively packed so many telling touches into the story's fabric that it comes across with surprising force. Of course, some of the action is obvious – the dynamited building exploding into the camera; the shoot-out in the freight elevator when the participants are hidden because the lift gets stuck halfway; the foreground consistently exploding with street and hospital argon as the main players struggle to come to terms with some tragedy – but much of the movie's relentlessly downbeat mood and slum-living vitality is also enhanced through the fine performances Wellman has induced from his lead players. Hal Skelly, cast against type as the never-you-mind live-and-let-live, who gaily hop-scotches in the gutter, but then transforms into a zero-tolerance monster, imparts his Dan Malone to the audience in a seemingly effortless interpretation. He rightly dominates the movie, although Evelyn Brent as the good-girl floozy who finally manages to out-smart herself, would have run Skelly close had her part been larger. Chester Morris is effective as the heavy, Effie Ellsler is okay as the mum of all sorrows. Leslie Fenton (later a director) makes a few waves as Brent's brother; and if you look hard, you may spot Joseph L. Mankiewicz moonlighting as a reporter. Wellman's assistant director, as usual, was Charles Barton.