Whipsaw (1935)

SAM WOOD

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB

USA, 1935. . Screenplay by , from the story by . Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

Dueling jewel thieves go after four extremely rare and precious pearls recently purchased by a millionaire gem collector, with outwitting rival criminal by dropping the dime on him and getting him arrested.

Stephens makes off with the pearls and hides them on the person of his unwitting female accomplice , then goes ahead to New Orleans and waits for her to join him there. She runs into some trouble with the law but gets out of it thanks to the help of another goon, played by , who joins her on her cross-country voyage.

She knows from the get-go that he’s actually an undercover cop who is following her to her destination to find the stolen goods, but she goes along with his scheme in the hopes that she can eventually shake him and go off on her own.

Along the way, however, the two of them are waylaid by a rainstorm and stop at a farmhouse where they help deliver newborn twins, and it inspires a realization in her that she has long desired to go straight and now has the chance to do so.

The new morality of the Production Code not only dictated that any criminal activity must be punished by the law before the end credits, but also made sure that no matter what sins a woman committed, her falling in love (and therefore becoming feminized despite her ambitions as either a ruthless career gal or criminal) made her worthy of a happy ending in the eyes of the audience; among the greatest fantasies that movies ever sold the public hungry for dreams (especially during the Depression) is that the world of law and order is so respectful of human connection that it will allow just about anything to be excused in the name of making sure two wonderful people fall in love.

Tracy and Loy don’t make a bad couple but they’re not a natural fit either, their chemistry doesn’t quite crackle enough to make up for the fact that the plot has very loose stakes created to keep them together, and after a confusing set-up and some overly wordy and complicated scenes getting them on their journey, their trip’s interruption to help bring new life in the world reads as more than a bit cheesy (it’s also how old movies made sure we knew that two unmarried people staying up all night together aren’t having sex, see also Judy Garland and Robert Walker delivering milk until the wee small hours in The Clock).

It’s a silly venture and only mildly interesting, though Loy is once again fascinating for delivering multiple layers of longing, wisdom and intelligence in a touching but restrained performance.

 

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