The Gorgeous Hussy

Dullsville

The Gorgeous Hussy (1936)

The Gorgeous Hussy (1936)

It probably comes as no surprise that the star of a movie called The Gorgeous Hussy is Joan Crawford. I think the term hussy was probably used quite regularly to describe the star’s off-screen behavior, but the movie is not as scandalous as the title might suggest. This work of historical fiction is set in 1823 Washington D.C. and places Crawford’s hussy among several government notables of the time.

Crawford plays Peggy, daughter of an innkeeper in D.C. where several lawmakers stay while in the capitol. She has grown up around the men and so Virginia Sen. John Randolph (Melvyn Douglas) has a hard time thinking of the girl as a woman. This reluctance causes him to spurn her when she enters his room late one night to declare her love.

The rejection leads Peggy to accept the advances of a sailor “Bow” Timberlake (Robert Taylor). The couple marries but Bow is called back to duty on the U.S.S. Constitution and dies before ever returning home.

Peggy has been good friends with Andrew (Lionel Barrymore) and Rachel Jackson (Beulah Bondi) for a number of years and begins to hang around with the politician up through a rough campaign for president, which he, of course, wins. The campaign involved a lot of gossip and harsh words against Rachel, who first married Andrew before her divorce from her first husband was finalized. With Jackson as president and Rachel having passed away, Peggy is in classy company but the rumors about her begin to mount.

Randolph returns to D.C. after five years in Russia and has resolved his feelings about Peggy to the point he does want to be with her, but the relationship will not last. Jackson objects to a union between the two and instead convinces Peggy to eventually wed Secretary of War John Eaton, played by Crawford’s one-time husband Franchot Tone. The rumors and “pot house Peg” references culminate in backlash from Jackson who asks his entire cabinet to resign because of their demands Peggy be sent away from Washington for the various scandals she has caused. Being the bigger person, Peggy bows out of the capitol scene.

I think filmmakers run a risk when inserting fictional characters into real historical situations. It is one thing to have fun with history and change aspects of real events for a laugh, but a drama in the same vein is not nearly as fun. If one ignores Crawford’s character in The Gorgeous Hussy, the movie does have some interesting historical aspects, such as the horrible mud that was slung at Rachel Jackson. The movie also becomes a bit predictable in terms of which relationships we know will be unsuccessful for Peggy, given that John Randolph never married someone with her name.

Crawford’s performance is fine, but uninspired. She is a woman with conflicting romantic emotions who is pursued or admired by nearly every man around her. We cannot, however, enjoy the movie as a “what might have been” romance between Peggy and Randolph given the historic requirements. I found it difficult to enjoy any of Peggy’s romantic interludes, which just added junk to what could have been a decent historical recollection of Jackson’s election.

Remember the Night

Gasser

Remember the Night (1940)

     Although Remember the Night is a fairly heartwarming Xmastime story, it does not necessarily have a happy ending. This first pairing of Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, who would make possibly the most famous film noir in history, Double Indemnity, is a story of compassion and romance but with some rather bleak moments along the way.

     Stanwyck plays Lee Leander, a thief with record who just prior to Xmas is on trial with MacMurray’s DA John Sargent against her. John moves for a continuance, however, because he knows the jury will acquit her based on the time of year. Feeling poorly about sending the young woman to an Xmas meal in the clink, John pays her bail, which results in the woman being deposited on his doorstep. He agrees to get her dinner and while they dance the couple discovers they are both from Indiana, which is where John is headed to spend the holiday. He opts to carpool the woman to her home town on the way, but when they arrive a cold reception from Lee’s mother and a glimpse into her poor upbringing leads John to take her to his home instead.

     John’s mother and aunt embrace Lee until the lawyer reveals she is a thief he plans to convict in a couple of days. That’s no problem until the two start to fall in love, and Mrs. Sargent sees Lee as a threat to her son’s honest upbringing and hard work. Ultimately, Lee pleads guilty either to avoid corrupting John or to do the honest thing, and the film ends with her in jail saying John must wait to marry her if he feels the same way once she has paid her debt to society.

     Although MacMurray would be cast against type in Double Indemnity, he plays his usual good guy in Remember the Night. Stanwyck, however, plays a similar bad girl or devious type she would also personify in The Lady Eve, which along with this film was written by Preston Sturges. She also sports the same dark hair color as she does as Eve, which is my favorite of her looks. She worked well as a blonde, but I find her particularly striking with the dark locks.

     Remember the Night is a cute, romantic holiday film with good acting, but it is not particularly memorable. Better to hold out for Double Indemnity.

Source: Robert Osborne

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