30 January 2015 | hotangen
Noble lie has disastrous consequences
Constance Bennett is terrific in this not so terrific film. Late in life she told an interviewer she was no Sarah Bernhardt but her self-appraisal was off target and doesn't apply to her performance as the outcast lady. MGM filmed this story in 1929 with Garbo and audience comparison of the 2 interpretations may have been a factor in the 1934 version's box-office failure. Or maybe it was something else.
In the early scenes Iris is a young woman in love, bubbling with happiness, for she's about to marry her true love, played by Herbert Marshall. But Marshall is miscast. He's too old to play Napier, Iris childhood playmate, who allows his father to make major life decisions for him. Iris and Napier don't marry. Years later, Iris marries 'Boy', a man with a secret, which she discovers on her wedding day. Boy's response to her discovery is incredible. Iris then makes her own incredible decision that results in the ruination of those she loves as well as herself. Iris tells a lie. This saves Boy's reputation while destroying her own. More years later, the truth is revealed, but it's too late to be of use to anyone. That Bennett succeeds in making these incredible happenings credible is impressive.
And Bennett is graceful and alluring on the dance floor. A wonderful scene shows the pleasure seeking merry widow in her Adrian gown dancing the tango in a nightclub on the Riviera. She does appear to be enjoying herself and her partner. But we know better. Under that gay exterior there beats the broken heart of a noble woman. Or something like that.
Variety's reviewer wrote, "It's a very good acting job by Constance Bennett and if the story hadn't been such a patch-quilt it might have been one of her memorable performances." I agree. The story is to blame. BTW, the secret Iris guarded is somewhat mysterious. Being referred to as Boy's "purity" has misled today's viewers, but the audience of 1934, especially the males, would have known that Boy had a disease, at that time incurable and considered so shameful that it was spoken of only in confidence with one's doctor. MGM's genius producer, Irving Thalberg, as well as the Production Code were responsible for this hash.