Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1937)

The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (Richard Boleslawksi and Dorothy Arzner, 1937) Remake of the 1928 stage adaptation with Norma Shearer and Basil Rathbone, this one has a little bit more of the star-wattage of M-G-M behind it with Joan Crawford (rarely better) as well as William Powell, Robert Montgomery, Frank Morgan, Nigel Bruce and Jessie Ralph. 

The movie starts stodgily with Montgomery's Lord Arthur Dilling meeting and becoming entranced with widower Mrs. Fay Cheyney (Crawford) on a transatlantic sail. He's intrigued that she takes a fancy to the equally rich, more elderly (and more susceptible) Lord Francis Kelton (Morgan), and keeps an eye on her when they disembark, for though he's smitten, he's curious to see if she might be a gold-digger.

She's not. She's an international jewel-thief in cahoots with Charles (William Powell), the man posing as her butler.  
It's hard to pin-point, but around the time the cast all gets together at the estate of Lady Embley (Ralph) after a charity event, the tone suddenly lightens and everybody, especially Montgomery, get several notches better. Now, at some point, the original assigned director Richard Boleslawski died of a heart attack, to be replaced by Hollywood's only working female director at the time, Dorothy Arzner, and while one is hesitant to say this is entirely due to a change in directors, it is unarguable that the film starts to take off, whereas before it has a strained and stuffy feeling to it. Maybe, it's the presence of Powell—though it's doubtful because Crawford starts to light up, too—maybe because the entire cast is pinging off each other, there's more cross-talk between them and more energy zapping between each and every player. Maybe it's the script because the last half is where the change-up's, turn-around's and surprises in character and situations are clustered, a perfect case of the tail wagging the dog (without a chase, explosion or clinch to be seen). But it makes one want to check out Dorothy Arzner, the lone woman in the field (besides Leni Riefenstahl) to be making films at the time. Not to be sexist or anything, but it does make a difference.  

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