Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Lost in transition… Our Blushing Brides (1930)

 Wiki-parently this was Joan Crawford’s 31st film (out of a career total of 86) and her 4th sound film – a third of her films were silent - made when she was just 26 and still in the process of becoming “Joan Crawford”.

Her diction is deliberately modulated to enable the microphones to pick up something approximating a received pronunciation north eastern American accent – this gal doesn’t sound like she’s from the Bronx let alone San Antonio, Texas… that she manages to act through these constraints is a wonder and a measure of her talent.

Crawford, Page and Sebastien again!
Our Blushing Brides follows loosely on from Our Dancing Daughters (very good), Our Modern Maidens (so-so) and is a mixed bag of genre and tone incorporating shop-girl comedy, dance spectacular, rom-com and melodrama shifting sometimes awkwardly between happy and really bloomin’ sad. Throughout it all, the camera is focused on Joan in and out of a variety of stunning gowns and frankly very pre-code lingerie… Ever get the feeling you’re being exploited?

It proves to be a very uneven experience and for stretches leaves you marooned in one of its pockets of coherence as you wait for the narrative to move along whilst, other-times, it just ups and jumps to its (sometimes-inevitable) conclusions without taking the characters and the audience through the steps to get there…

And yet… there are laughs, snap-chatty inter-play between the three female leads and a catwalk over-flowing with dancing mannequins all wearing the finest in elegant sewing or haute couture to you. Then there’s Joan, as expressive and energetically-focused as ever: this feels like a reasonably aerobic work-out for her but she’s clearly playing within her limits – half actress half athlete.

She gets good support from Dorothy Sebastian – ideal best friend material for Miss Crawford; capable of keeping up without overshadowing the front-runner. Also good is Anita Page who performs the seemingly impossible feet of having larger and prettier eyes than Joan. Joan has to work her lids to show her peepers to full effect but Anita just has to blink. A more natural comedian than Crawford her role is all the more tragic for that.

The three women play a hat-trick of shop workers who all perform different roles in Jardine’s Department Store and share a humble brownstone flat on their $20 weekly pay. Joan is Geraldine "Gerry" March a model or “mannequin” – who shows off the stores finest clothes to the well-off patrons whilst Anita is Connie Blair who works in the perfume counter whilst Dorothy’s Francine Daniels sells blankets in home furnishings.

As with all store-slaves they dream of escape and it seems Connie may well have found hers in the form of the owner’s second son David Jardine (Raymond Hackett). Gerry is less certain and has a natural distrust of male motivations no doubt having been once or twice-bitten. She attracts the attention of David’s elder brother Tony (Robert Montgomery) who ogles her during a fashion show and tries his luck but it turns out that Gerry doesn’t just play at hard-to-get: she is.

Then Francine, almost despairing of a lucky break, meets a mustachioed charmer Marty Sanderson (John Miljan) who orders $500 worth of blankets for his hotel and arranges a date at the same time: he’s in the money and she’s not bothering to check the gift-horse’s teeth…

Relationships move to the next level very quickly: Francine and Marty have a quick-fire drunken wedding much to Gerry’s concern whilst Connie soon moves into an apartment courtesy of David and it’s surely only a matter of time before he makes their relationship public.

Jeepers, creepers... check out Anita's peepers!
Then the film decides it’s time for a huge set-piece as a flamboyant fashion designer arrives to greet old pal Tony and arrange a massive show at the family pile… spotting Gerry he decides to make her the centre-piece. The limos arrive to find a massive stage erected on the vast Jardine estate and the nonsense begins with long minutes of Joan high-kicking and knicker-revealing in a flowing white dress. Swoosh, spin and bend: take that Mr Hays!!

What a swell party this is
Tony is naturally very impressed and takes Gerry off for a quite walk in the woods to show her his electronic tree house (haven’t you got one?). At the flick of a switch a large apartment is revealed and a stairway is lowered… Climbing up Gerry finds the room full of all the home comforts and yet, when Tony pulls up the stairs she feels cheated by this house-trap/tree-trick. Gerry had thought better of Tony and yet when he tries to man-splain his worldly-wise ways she realises he’s not one to trust before a tryst.

Tony's on third strike
Disgusted Gerry departs and refuses to give Tony a second chance: a line that impresses as a third chance is also spurned. Gerry leaves to live alone as expectations are momentarily confounded… Then things begin to unravel as life and the narrative takes a turn for the worse all round as the film finally decides it’s a drama after all with music and comedy put aside for the final fraught thirty minutes.

At the time Our Blushing Brides did good business and it’s not hard to see why: it was built to succeed by ticking so many boxes it could almost be a multiple choice examination on how to make a Hollywood winner. It’s a thoroughly-professional endeavour from all concerned and whilst it doesn’t engage in the way that Our Dancing Daughters did, it prefigures the mass ensemble back-stage musical dramas that were to follow.

Such a show off
It was also another staging post in the rise of the remarkable Joan – her diction and tone would improve but the look and the intensity was already in place as evidenced throughout her silent successes.

Our Blushing Brides is available on Warner Archive DVD-R either direct or from Amazons.

Don't worry dear, he liked it really...

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