1 November 2011 | robert-temple-1
Excellent social melodrama with a strong attack on society's hypocrisy
This is a very lively film, with an excellent lead performance by the young Claire Trevor (aged 25 or 26), here appearing as a platinum blonde. Claire Trevor was so superb in her many film noir roles in later years, that it is fascinating to see her in something before she became a femme fatale, and was instead a bright young thing with a sweet smile which wasn't forced. The film is aided by a very good script written by Frances Hyland, a woman who wrote 57 films (the last being in 1947) but of whose life we know almost nothing except that she was born 'around 1904' and brought up in Arkansas. No one knows when she died. The director is George Archainbaud (1890-1959), a Paris-born director of 144 films, including so many Hopalong Cassidy movies that one wonders if he later became part horse, or slept with a six-gun. But here, Archainbaud does a highly professional job of directing a powerful contemporary social melodrama, which is so far a cry from the Wild West of his later years. The story is set on Long Island, where Pauline Frederick icily plays the 'Queen of Long Island Society', Mrs. Dewitt Tyler, one of America's archest snobs. She has two sons, the elder of whom (Kent Taylor) is engaged to Claire Trevor. They are all having a party one evening when it is announced on the radio that Trevor's father has been shot and that it has been discovered that all of his riches came from his controlling a gambling empire, a fact which he had kept from his daughter (whose mother has died long before). Suddenly, all the socialites turn on Trevor except for John Tyler, who sticks with her, goes to the hospital with her to see her dying father, where for her sake, and to avoid endangering her prospective marriage, her doting father covers up the fact that her brother-in-law to be, the younger brother Roger Tyler (Thomas Beck) had been present at the shooting, used by some gangsters without his knowledge. Roger is a weak character who has contracted huge gambling debts, but whose mother will not let him have any of her fortune other than a modest allowance, so he cannot pay his debts and is forced into this compromising situation. Unaware of all this involvement (albeit as a passive witness) of his own brother in the murder of his fiancée's father, John Tyler marries Claire Trevor quickly and in quiet, shocking his family and friends, who all now consider her a social disgrace with whom they do not wish to associate. There is a savage scene where he brings her back home to a luncheon with female friends, who all treat her as a pariah and raise their eyebrows (what is left of them after they have been plucked, of course) and turn away from her in contempt. The mother pretends to welcome Trevor, now her daughter-in-law, into her home and be nice to her, but busily schemes behind her back to do everything possible to break up the marriage. When John Tyler wants to get a job, three times she secretly phones his prospective employers and tells them not to hire him, so that he cannot have financial freedom to move out and get an apartment and have privacy, and thus be free of her attempts to smash up his marriage. It is all very savage stuff, High Society at work with its sledgehammers against a living threat to its pretensions. Hyland and Archainbaud do not hold back in their depiction of all the cruelty and hypocrisy. Trevor's only friend is her father's assistant, a former policeman named Barney Dolan, played by Paul Kelly. He is continually trying to solve the murder of her father, and rejoins the police force as a lieutenant. An excellent cameo role in the film (Barney's mother) is played by Beryl Mercer, the charming little woman with the wobbly, loving and motherly voice and manner who appears in so many Hollywood movies of the 1930s, though she died tragically in 1939 aged only 56. Film buffs will remember her from THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES which she made in the last year of her life, as Paul's mother in ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930), and above all in what may be the finest role of her career, as Gary Cooper's adoptive mother in the incredibly sad and moving film SEVEN DAYS' LEAVE (1930, see my review), which is one of the most pathetic and heart-rending tales I have ever seen on film, largely made effective by Beryl Mercer's amazing performance in it, which was truly worthy of an Oscar. Ironically, Paul Kelly who plays Mercer's son in this film died even younger than she did, at only 57, in 1956. Kelly is remembered for many notable films in which he appeared later, such as CROSSFIRE (1947), FEAR IN THE NIGHT (1947, see my review), THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON (1950), and STRANGE JOURNEY (1946). Most of the actors in this film, however, will be familiar to few viewers. As an early vehicle for Claire Trevor, it is not to be missed. It is extraordinary that IMDb has until now had no plot summary or review of this interesting and worthwhile film, so that nothing was known of it apart from the cast and crew list and that its duration was 73 minutes. I am therefore glad to be able at last to contribute some information about it and call attention to it for the benefit of other lovers of old movies and admirers of Claire Trevor.