Thursday, February 26, 2009

Of lingerie models and leering boyfriends

Anita Page (right) and Bessie Love pre-pare for a bath in The Broadway Melody (1929).

I watched a trio of Anita Page movies from the early pre-code era recently: The Broadway Melody, Skyscraper Souls and Our Blushing Brides. Anita Page wasn't a great actress but she was a memorable presence on screen. She made her biggest impact in the silent era with Our Dancing Daughters (pre-curser to Our Blushing Brides) and the transition into sound was seemingly easy for her. She is natural and easy-going in her talkies, though sometimes she seems to loose the screen to more forceful actors, like co-star Joan Crawford. In all three of these movies Page plays a woman that men like to look at, whether on a broadway stage, modeling lingerie or standing behind a perfume counter, she is always the eye candy that pays the bills for some man. And there is always a stage-door johnny type ready to load her up with jewelry and furs and empty promises. While her more famous co-star, Joan Crawford, always played the good girl in these situations, Page got to be the girl who lets her foot slip once in a while.

The Broadway Melody (1929) was a very popular movie in its day but it is maddeningly slow and the musical numbers feel distant and uninspiring. I'm willing to forgive this clunkiness as a side effect of its being one of the first full-length talkies. The central relationship in the movie between Queenie (Anita Page) and her sister, Hank (Bessie Love) is just a bit weird. Queenie is in love with Eddie (Charles King) but he is engaged to Hank. For Hank's part she seems more obsessed with her sister than her boyfriend. Queenie has to choose between a producer named Jock Warriner (a thinly disguised Jack Warner) that wants to keep her in high style and low morals and her sister's beau. What's a good girl to do? Apparently the answer is to walk around in her underclothes a lot. Queenie goes so far as to take a bath in her underwear, which has to be one of the most bizarre thing I've seen in a pre-code film.

In Our Blushing Brides (1930) Anita Page plays Connie a department store clerk who is having an affair with the owner's son (Raymond Hackett). Her roommate, Joan Crawford works in the same store but prefers to keep the owner's other son (Robert Montgomery) at arm's length. Things don't turn out well for Anita's character as her boyfriend keeps her on the side while continuing to juggle society dames. Joan Crawford has one flirtatious encounter after another with Montgomery until you wish they would fall in love already. Their romance mostly takes place in his unreal, only-in-the-movies tree house complete with electric lights, telephone and mechanically descending staircase. One of his favorite tricks is to bring women up there and pull up the stairs so they can't leave. Charming. Crawford and Page also model for the department store (naturally) so that is what gives the excuse for them to be changing clothes perpetually. I don't think they invented those changing screens (you know the kind where the woman ducks behind and shortly afterward you see her dress slung over the top of the screen, followed by her stockings) until 1934.

In Skyscraper Souls, Anita Page mixes it up a bit: she plays a lingerie model and a prostitute who turns tricks for extra pocket money and to bail out her friends from financial disaster. (Click here for full review of Skyscraper Souls.) This clever bit of scripting gives Anita double the chances to undress before the camera. In the end she winds up going straight and marrying the only man in the Dwight Building that hasn't been paying her to see her in the altogether.

I really enjoyed all three of these movies, each in their own way and Anita Page is certainly entertaining and of, course, watchable in all of them.


AbbyNormal said...

"One of his favorite tricks is to bring women up there and pull up the stairs so they can't leave. Charming." heh heh. Indeed. :-)

I haven't watched these, but I have "Skyscraper Souls" and can't wait to find a few hours to dive into it.

surtini said...
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surtini said...
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