Monday, 28 January 2013

Brooks burns out brightly… God’s Gift to Women (1931)

This is one of the few talkies made by Louise Brooks and amongst her last significant roles: her final feature. Within the space of just six years she’d gone from rising star to almost untouchable as the studios dropped and blocked.

Yet here she is alongside Joan Blondell – three months younger and at the start of a long career from talkies to Grease… But, if Louise had had it in her she would have…could have…. As it was she burned bridges like no other and enjoyed the glorious re-evaluation and rediscovery that has done as much than anything else to engender fascination with silent film. After all, if Hollywood could miss out on this transcendent talent what else are we missing?

It’s better to burn out than fade away… and Brooks burned bright indeed before a rapid fade...

24 hour party people... Louise on the left.
God’s Gift isn’t especially to comedy, but it’s an effective if slight film. It uses Brooks to good if limited effect playing a fringeless flapper, part of the mobile 24 hour party people that surround Frank Fay’s character. She’s seen in a fair amount of the film, and in a succession of stunning dresses but the part’s much smaller than say The Show Off: full circle.

Of course the film is also notable as Brooksie speaks and sounds pretty good too… She’s also involved in a hell of a cat fight with Blondell and Margaret Livingston as they compete to look after the seemingly ailing Toto Duryea (Fay). As in her other comedies, Brooks just keeps it real, she hasn’t got Blondell’s humour but anchors the action in naturalism while Fey and others go (way) over the top.

Laura La Plante and Frank Fay
The film was directed by Michael Curtiz based on the play The Devil Was Sick by Jane Hinton and was one of former vaudeville star Frank Fay’s last staring roles. Fay’s character suddenly finds the love of his life, Diana Churchill (Laura La Plante, another star nearing the end) in one of his regular nightclub haunts.

He pursues her but is fended off by her father and has to promise to not see her for six months to prove serious intent. Given a medical by the family’s doctor he is told that he has a weak heart and that the slightest excitement could prove fatal.

All in the best possible taste...
Brooks’ Florine is more than capable of providing this and, descends on Toto, along with Blondell’s Fifi and Livingston’s Tania Donaliff, to nurse him.  There’s a series of gratuitous shots as each woman goes off to change after they arrive… Fay reacts like a character in a Carry on (we’re only missing Sid James’ lascivious snigger…or Kenneth Connor’s “coorr!”…) as we’re treated to glimpses of silken lingerie: Blondell even has a nurse’s outfit.

Joan Blondell and Frank Fay
So far so pre-code and Blondell in particular excels, she was a natural comedic actress with great timing and delivery – no surprise that she made a great paring with Glenda Farrell in so many comedies.

The only surprise is why the girls fancy the aging lothario in the first place and why he choses La Plant’s rather dour character over the looks of Brooks or Blondell’s good cheer.

Can Toto resists them all and hold out for Diana against all the odds?

Margaret Livingston, Brooks and Blondell
I watched God’s Gift to Women on the just-released Warner Archives DVD. It’s a good print and a film I’d recommend to all friends of Louise. Blondell is the stand out but Fay also plays his part.

He married Barbara Stanwyck in 1928 and it has been said that their relationship formed the basis of A Star is Born. What goes up must come down, what matters is that you have your moment and Louise Brooks certainly had those.

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