A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Age of Innocence (Philip Moeller, 1934)

John Boles and Irene Dunne in The Age of Innocence
Countess Ellen Olenska: Irene Dunne
Newland Archer: John Boles
Julius Beaufort: Lionel Atwill
Granny Mingott: Helen Westley
Augusta Welland: Laura Hope Crews
May Welland: Julie Haydon
Howard Welland: Herbert Yost
Mrs. Archer: Theresa Maxwell Conover
Jane Archer: Edith Van Cleve
The Butler: Leonard Carey

Director: Philip Moeller
Screenplay: Sarah Y. Mason, Victor Heerman
Based on a novel by Edith Wharton and a play adapted from it by Margaret Ayer Barnes
Cinematography: James Van Trees
Art direction: Alfred Herman, Van Nest Polglase
Music: Max Steiner

The fine ironic edges of Edith Wharton's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel have been filed down in this first sound version. (There had been a silent film based on the book, directed by Wesley Ruggles, in 1924.) Instead we get a rather soppy melodrama of forbidden love, which suggests that marital vows and family commitments are unbreakable -- an endorsement of old-fashioned values quite in line with the nascent Production Code, introduced in the year of the film's release. The movie opens with a montage of "modern times" replete with jazz and scandals, as if to drive home its message. It's further weakened by the casting of the ladylike Irene Dunne as the scandalous Ellen Olenska. The actress who turned the part down, Katharine Hepburn, might at least have brought a whiff of the unconventional to the role. Dunne tries to give Ellen a spark of life at the start, but after Newland Archer enters the picture and declares his love in spite of his engagement to May Welland, we are presented with Dunne's distant gazes and wistful looks. It doesn't help that John Boles is starchy and vapid as Newland, or that Julie Haydon's May Welland is a sugary ingenue, with no hint of the manipulative until the very end when she plays the pregnancy card. The only real life in the cast is supplied by the supporting players, particularly Laura Hope Crews, eschewing her usual fluttery mannerisms as as May's mother, and Helen Westley, providing some salt and vinegar as Granny Mingott. 

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