Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 1928. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Story and scenario by Josephine Lovett, titles by Marian Ainslee, Ruth Cummings. Cinematography by George Barnes. Produced by Hunt Stromberg. Music by William Axt. Production Design by Cedric Gibbons. Costume Design by David Cox. Film Editing by William Hamilton. Academy Awards 1928/1929.
The film that deservedly made Joan Crawford a top of the line star is a terrific, spirited drama about jazz babies and their tangled love lives. Crawford plays a vivacious flapper who loves to kick up her heels at parties, enjoying the odd flirt with men but in reality a reserved and modest woman. Anita Page, meanwhile, plays the innocent coquette but only has dollar signs in her eyes when she flashes eyes at the same man that Crawford is in love with, a millionaire played by Johnny Mack Brown. While he has genuine feeling for Joan, he falls for Page’s routine and sees her as more suitable wife material, marrying her and plunging himself into a miserable life of endless spending for her materialistic needs (not that the film knows it, but don’t worry too much as Black Tuesday is just around the corner). Crawford takes it like a champ and goes on with her life, but later on she reunites with her ex-lover and sets some shameless melodrama in motion. Silent movies relied heavily on strong archetypes to help tell stories more efficiently, categorizing people with little nuance was helpful for dramatic purposes, so it’s fascinating to see a movie that, while never particularly smashing stereotypes of morality in women, challenges and subverts them by forcing us to look deeper than we usually do. It’s a top tier production from the studio that features an exceptional script by Josephine Lovett, beautiful cinematography and unreservedly dedicated performances by the leads: Crawford shows up fully prepared for her star turn, you don’t need dialogue on the soundtrack to experience all the levels of emotional intelligence she delivers, and watching her do it with such easy strength is a genuine pleasure.