18 January 2011 | marcslope
Hearst pushes Marion off a San Simeon cliff
Marion Davies was a winsome, whimsical, and very pretty comedienne, with a slyly subversive personality not unlike Carole Lombard's. But her mentor and manager William Randolph Hearst preferred to see her as a clothes horse, in stuffy period romances. And so we have this sleepy costume epic, from a flop play by the author of "Naughty Marietta," where she's a Baltimore society heiress, with hair of a color no 1805 society heiress ever knew, who keeps smiling gallantly while her heart is breaking. It's a Norma Shearer sort of part, and Marion's noble suffering is equally uninvolving. She looks glum and too old for the role, and her romantic interest, Dick Powell as Napoleon's brother (!), looks equally unhappy. Claude Rains is an asset as the Emperor, as are Edward Everett Horton, Charlie Ruggles, and Arthur Treacher as her three other suitors (though the screenwriters might have come up with better dialog for them). But mostly it's Marion being noble--acting condescendingly nice to the slave labor, going from haughty to starry-eyed over Powell in record time, shedding glycerine tears, and advancing to an unlikely, logic-defying happy ending. Frank Borzage directs with his typical moonlight and magnolias, but even he doesn't seem to believe it, and Marion seems to be wishing she were in a screwball comedy.