Norma in the "after" pictures from one of the most stunning make-overs in movie history. Do click on the high res on this one to see the amazing detail on that Adrian gown from Let Us Be Gay.
Norma Shearer may not have been the best actress in Hollywood in the early thirties, but she was certainly the bravest. It wasn't enough that she appeared occasionally in translucent gowns or that she made movies about women who dared to be as opportunistic and promiscuous as men. No, Norma did something Garbo, Harlow or Dietrich would have never dared. She appeared on screen for ten minutes without make-up, in frumpy clothes and glasses. I didn't even recognize her. I though she was the maid for the first two minutes of the movie--until she went downstairs and started giving orders to the maid that is. Kitty Brown is a woman who tries very hard to please her husband and treat him right, but he still runs around on her anyway. Confronted with the awful truth she throws him out. When next we see her she is transformed into Norma Shearer with bobbed hair, make up and sporty, sexy clothes. Mick La Salle wrote about the transformation saying that Shearer was suggesting to all women that they could be beautiful and glamorous and that her own beauty was somewhat manufactured. Nowadays when actresses ugly themselves up, they get Oscar nominations. Back then it was viewed as Norma competing against herself, her only real competition. She had to top the last movie she did, The Divorcee.
After Kitty Brown is transformed to Katharine Courtland Brown fashion designer, returning after three years in Paris, she finds herself at a week-end house party with her ex-husband. In one scene he asks to know what she's been up to and she says "like you I've been amusing myself with anything and everything. I know a man feels about those things now." Shearer plays the scene so that you don't know whether she is serious or winding him up. He clearly doesn't believe her and it takes finding two men in her bedroom to convince him that she hasn't been home knitting those clever cloche hats that she wears. Yet, by the end of the movie you are still are unclear whether Kitty is truly as worldly as she'd have her ex believe. She flirts so fast and continuously its almost as if she were inventing speed dating and she is just as deft at playing suitors so that they feel as if they are making progress without getting so much as a kiss from her.
Shearer's performance is a bit uneven and I'm inclined to think that's partly down to the varying quality of the other cast members. With an old pro like Marie Dressler she's fabulous and funny. With Rod La Rocque who plays her husband she struggles to find a rhythm. There are strange pauses and it feel like you are watching a play where people are late on their cues. And in a sense you are since since the screenplay was adapted from a stage play by Rachel Crothers.
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