Secret Bride

Dullsville

The Secret Bride (1934)

The Secret Bride (1934)

Barbara Stanwyck is a good example of an actor who is remembered by history as being a real standout performer with many phenomenal movies and roles to her name while still having a list of disappointments on her resume. The same can be said of many stars that eventually rise to a position where they can be choosy with their parts, but everyone has to make a living to start with.

Like Ladies They Talk About and The Bitter Tea of General Yen, The Secret Bride is an easy film on Stanwyck’s list to ignore. At just over an hour in runtime, the movie is horribly rushed, eliminating any chance for a natural ebb and flow of action.

Stanwyck is Ruth Vincent, daughter of the state’s governor. She marries in a town hall the state’s Attorney General Robert Sheldon (Warren William), but before the couple can announce to her father the exciting news, Sheldon is informed that the governor is implicated in a bribery scheme.

Governor Vincent (Arthur Byron) had pardoned John Holdstock, and the latter’s secretary, Willis Martin (Grant Mitchell), is caught by Robert’s investigator depositing $10,000 into Vincent’s personal account. A short while later Holdstock is found to have killed himself. Both Robert and Ruth believe in the governor’s innocence, but they want to prove it before a legislative investigatory committee can impeach him. In order to avoid any appearance of impropriety, the couple commit to keeping their marriage secret.

Keeping the nuptials under wraps does not become a problem until Ruth witnesses the shooting of Robert’s investigator Bredeen (Douglas Dumbrille) from Robert’s apartment window. She did not see the shooter but she knows the direction of the shot clears Bredeen’s girlfriend and Robert’s secretary Hazel (Glenda Farrell) of the crime. Ruth insists on staying out of the investigation because it would raise questions as to why she was in Robert’s apartment late at night. At last, however, she must come forward and admit their marriage in court, potentially ruining her husband’s career.

Stanwyck give the performance we would expect of her but does not blow anyone away. William is equally satisfactory in his part, but the story is difficult to appreciate. It is impossible to unweave the crime oneself, and as the action rushes along, we conclude with one character confessing every detail of the convoluted crime. Ruth and Robert seem to be genuinely in love, an accomplishment for the actors, but that has nearly nothing to do with the story, which is essentially a crime mystery. Perhaps the plot would have been more compelling it had analysed the effect on the newlyweds of the investigation. The emotional trauma and rift it could cause would be more dramatic than a complex crime story.

  • The Secret Bride is set for 2 p.m. ET Dec. 13 on TCM.

Salome (1953)

Gasser

Salome (1953)

     I am not typically a fan of bible-era movies, so Salome had me nearly disinterested from the start, but thanks to a strong performance by Rita Hayworth and a decent romantic plot, I ultimately enjoyed this viewing. Although I thoroughly enjoyed Hayworth in The Lady from Shanghai and Gilda in which she plays a great conniving seductress, several musical or otherwise light-subjected movies had me sort of jaded about the beautiful star’s talent. Salome stood to be another opportunity for the redhead to gallivant across the screen as merely a beautiful face, but the now-matured star showed her mettle here instead.

     Hayworth was 35 when Salome was released and although her face shows nearly no signs of aging, her voice and her manner belie a world-wise woman. She no longer comes to the screen with the gay light of the young and free, but instead gives us an embittered young woman who hates her surroundings.

      Salome, the step daughter of King Herod of Galilee, has spent most of her life in Rome where Tiberius Caesar banishes the woman from his city. Caesar’s cousin wishes to marry her, but being a “savage” non-Roman, the union is forbidden and Salome cast out. Her voyage back to Galilee is on a vessel occupied by newly appointed Governor Pontius Pilate (Basil Sydney) and his right-hand man Commander Claudius, played by Stewart Granger. Claudius immediately puts the moves on the sexy lady despite her wishes to have no contact with Romans. Once home in Galilee, Salome is graciously greeted by her mother Queen Herodias, played by an aged Judith Anderson, and is immediately spotted by King Herod as (Charles Laughton) as a desirable conquest.

     In the midst of this story is another plot involving John the Baptist, whom the king thinks is the messiah, who preaches about a new religion and speaks against the throne because the queen is an adulteress having left her husband to marry his brother, the king. Herod will do nothing to silence the man despite his wife’s wishes because a prophecy declares any member of the Herod family who kills the messiah is doomed to die an agonizing death. Salome dislikes the Baptist because he denounces her mother, but Claudius is good friends with the prophet.

     Salome and Claudius draw nearer to each other as the plot unfolds and the woman begins to realize the evil of her mother. When John the Baptist is arrested, Claudius uses the palace guards to fight him free while Salome dances for the king in the hopes of convincing him to release the prisoner. This dance, which will make Salome the king’s possession, is something to be seen. Hayworth, dressed in layers of colorful, gauzy garment, spins and postures as she removes each successive layer of dress until she is down to a nude-colored, nearly sheer ensemble embellished with beads. This striptease is performed in front of a crowd and is brutally interrupted when a certain character’s head arrives on a platter.

     I’ve already noted how strong I found Hayworth’s performance to be. It seems at this point in her career she finally found her footing among strong, sexy roles, much as Lana Turner moved from light-hearted flicks to more compelling ones. Salome came out around the same time as the other two I mentioned liking, so it seems we can track down a good point after which her films become palatable.

     The Technicolor extravaganza of Salome was not the best backdrop for Anderson, however, whose age is apparent outside the black-and-white era in which she flourished. That is not to say she did not give her typically evil/strong performance. Laughton of course was splendid in yet another villanous role. He is entirely creepy as he makes eyes at Salome while she dances for him. With Granger I found myself going through the same motions I usually do with him. On first appearance I find myself disappointed that he is the male romantic lead, but as the picture progresses, he wins me over. He does a fine job with such performances and I cannot help but find my heart thawing a bit toward him by the close of each of his similarly romantic films.

Jewel Robbery

Dullsville

Jewel Robbery (1932)

     Besides an entirely uninspired title, Jewel Robbery is a film busy with destroying an otherwise great plot concept. I am always one to jump on an opportunity to watch William Powell, and I enjoyed him paired with Kay Francis in One Way Passage incidentally from the same year, but in this pairing, the two flounder in a convoluted and unrealistic story.

     Set in Vienna, Francis is Baroness Teri, a woman utterly bored with her life married to a 50-something man with persistent gout, who attempts to find excitement in men and jewels. It is no surprise then that Teri is quite taken by the handsome robber who burgles the jewelry shop where she has just acquired a 28-carat diamond ring. Powell (credited as “robber”) is a high-class, sophisticated thief who plans his raids to perfection. He worries not about Teri, her husband and lover, and the shopkeeper all being on site while he commits his crime. He calmly talks to the hostages while his men pack the entire shop’s contents into two suitcases. The robber even convinces a police officer to load the parcels into his car and guard them until he leaves. The team gives the shop owner a funny cigarette that makes him giggle and pass out, and lock Teri’s two men into a safe. Teri refuses to be locked away and promises she does not want to see the man arrested. When the robber says he could kiss her, Teri closes her eyes and poses, but is left hanging.

     Next, the robber sneaks into Teri’s mansion because he is infatuated with her, as she is him. He wants her to come away with him, but the woman is mildly torn. Some complications with the police end the film in uncertainty, but we are pretty sure Teri will run off to meet her mysterious new love.

     I do not think the concept of a bored woman of wealth and position finding excitement and love with a classy thief is a necessarily original or far-fetched concept for a film –in fact, it offers a potentially fun story. Jewel Robbery, however, seems to muck it up. The first half of the film persists in the jewelry store as we watch Teri instantly fall for the man who absconds with her ring. But Teri throws herself at the robber a bit too obviously and quickly. And whereas the story could have fun with the two running off together at that point, Teri seemingly as a hostage, and evading the police, instead the two have to reunite.

     The robber uses some goofy maneuvering to get Teri to his place, where she almost takes off with a jewel case –but changes her mind in time to warn her love of the approaching police. It is unclear which is more important to the woman –love and excitement or jewels. One would think her obsession with precious stones is merely a substitute for the adventure and emotional enjoyment her life lacks, but apparently she is truly that greedy and vain. Additionally, nothing very physically passionate happens between the two until a kiss at the end.

     The second half of Jewel Robbery is fairly sloppy. I think the story could have worked better if Teri was a resistant lover. Although the audience could suspect she is charmed by the criminal, allow him to do the forcing and pursuing. Powell gives a fine performance, he is just trapped in a disappointing narrative. Francis is okay, but not great. Also, I have never before noticed the speech impediment that seems to prevent Francis from pronouncing her Rs. Besides all the other problems with this film, perhaps it was unwise to put her in a movie about wobbers –I mean robbers.

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