Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ladies' Man (1931)

Director: Lothar Mendes
USA 1931
75 min

Ladies' Man is an early talkie starring Hollywood's truest ladies' man: William Powell.
Powell plays a charming society gigolo with the unlikely name of Jamie Darricott, who makes his living by charming rich dames with husbands too busy making money (that their wives spend) to have time for them. Darricott takes the women out, charms them, gets expensive gifts he can sell and thereby can pay the rent of his luxurous bachelor apartment.
Waterproof way to make a living without boring oneself with a job.

We enter the story when Darricott charms a rich banker's wife, Mrs. Fendley (Olive Tell). He soon advances to her daughter, Rachel (played by a very Lombardy Carole Lombard), all to the growing anger of the son Anthony (Martin Burton), and the naïve and totally unknowing father Horace (Gilbert Emery).
Little does Darricott know (or any of his mistresses neither, for that matter) that he is about to meet his true love, in form of a sweet society girl, Norma Page (Kay Francis).

This might sound like a movie that isn't awefully unique (the ignorant bachelor using women, and then falls in love for real) - but the film makes it interesting by giving Darricott an unusually dark persona, someone who knows that he is going to fall and that it's just a matter of time. And Powell gives a great performance as such.
The film also gets an innovative twist in the otherwise overused plot, when the father realizes how much Darricott has interfered with his family in his absence and ignorance (of course just in time when Darricott no longer has any interest in the Fendley women, and would be concidered harmless).
The absence of a cliché happy resolution leaves a remarkable impression on the viewer when the film is over.

William Powell (handsome as ever), Carole Lombard and Martin Burton.

If I should complain about anything, I can give you two examples. The first isn't really something negative about the film itself, but rather the lack of using Kay Francis to something useful. She really shouldn't have to play the boring "good girl" - to me she will always suit best as the femme fatale.
Lombard, however, is wonderful. A favourite scene is when she gets extremely drunk and embarass herself in front of Darricott and Norma.

The other complaint is the quality of the film. It does not seem to have been restored (what my shallow Google search could find, at least), and the version I got my hands on was crappy as hell. There so much noise that it seems like a train passes by in every scene. The cutting was sometimes really weird - a scene ended, the screen went black, and then a short clip from the previous scene was shown again - without sound. That happened at least three times.
The picture quality is nothing to cheer about neither, but it was okay.

I'd love to see this film being properly restored. It's one of the best performances by William Powell I've had the delight to see. (But he is never especially bad, is he? Has he ever been even mediocre?)

Anyway - see it if you have the chance. And report to me if it's just my edition of the film that had a shitty quality.

Trivia: The film premiered on May 9, 1931. On June 26, William Powell and Carole Lombard got married, a marriage that would last for only 23 months. They did, however, remain close friends.

Powell - The Ladies' Man of Paramount.


Juliette. said...

You know, I think you're right-- I've never seen a bad performance from William Powell. Reading your great analysis has me intrigued-- I'll be on the lookout for this one. :)

Lolita said...

Ah, great! And tell me if you get ahold of a copy that isn't as bad quality (it's totally watchable the one I saw, so don't worry), maybe I just had some bad luck!

Matthew Coniam said...

Sounds like you got a second (or later) generation dupe of a 16mm to film transfer. That would account for the shit you detected. (The fades to black and slight reprises are the reel ends.) My copy is pretty much the same. The worst thing is when nobody speaks for a while, and that awful hissing fills the soundtrack, only to disappear when someone opens their mouth (until the next time... and the next...)
When I first started collecting old films they were often if not usually like that. It's only now that I'm starting to replace old favourites in similar condition with better prints, and I can't believe I was ever able to sit through them before. Finding an immaculate Pointed Heels felt like winning the lottery.
Still, it's a good film this one, isn't it. Very bleak and doomy. Nice.

Lolita said...

Matthew Coniam:
I guess that's the answer! You don't happen to know if there's a better version available somewhere in the world? Yeah, that hissing sound... I thought at first that I had broken the TV, he he. I'm spoiled with good versions of most films, probably!

Matthew Coniam said...

No, I've never come across a better version of this one, I'm afraid. It's pretty rare. I think we're lucky to have seen it at all. There's some folks in America - can't think of their names for a minute - who are doing some great double-bill discs of pre-code rarities, but they haven't got round to this one yet, so far as I know. They're a bit pricey too. I'm on a ration, worse luck.

Lolita said...

Matthew Coniam:
Then I will fell glad about having the opportunity! In time they will probably restore it, I'm sure of that. You have a ration? Ah, forgot that London hasn't yet come over WWII, ha ha. I just spend and spend, until the money is gone two days after salary.
Come back to me if you remember who those people are, would be interesting to check out.

Anonymous said...

How did you get to watch this movie? I love William POwell all time fav actor. never was he bad in anything. he is always so charming. no one seems to know who he is anymore. soo sad. he is way better then all other actors of today and his time.