Friday 6 July 2007

The Velvet Touch (1948) John Gage

Rosalind Russell is Valerie Stanton and Valerie Stanton is a Broadway star. She doesn't just work for producer Gordon Dunning, she's his lover too but she's trying to leave him for Michael Morrell. Dunning is such a catch that he'll drive her into the dirt before he'll let her go but while browbeating her into staying she impulsively clocks him on the head with a Best Director award, accidentally killing him. Needless to say, she has the Best Actress award back at her own place to match it and that helps her to dwell on the last few months while fellow actress Marian Webster, played by the ever-excellent Claire Trevor, takes the fall.

Claire Trevor is quite possibly the most consistent supporting actress I've ever seen. Certainly the films I've seen her in so far have her playing backup roles to the supposed stars and somehow outshining them all without stealing their respective spotlights. That's a serious talent and not one to be sniffed at. Here she's aided by a slew of razor sharp lines which are a treat, helping her to be very bitter to her prima donna yet always composed. She can still burn with her eyes at fifty paces and her sarcasm drips from a lot more than just her words. 'One of the things I do best is wait,' she says, and it couldn't ring truer to her performance. She waits, patiently, but she seethes too with everything she's bottled up while she's waited.

There's something about Frank McHugh that makes me enjoy his performances even when there's no reason to do so, and he's fine here in a very small part, but Dan Tobin is a joy as a flaming queen of a gossip columnist, looking like nothing less than Clark Gable as a shrunken head on a stick. Leon Ames is Dunning, and he's as excellent at mixing a slimeball nature with sheer capability as his replacement, Leo Genn as Morell, is at mixing charm with chauvinistic confidence. Russell moves from one to the other quickly but believably. Half the time she appears like Joan Crawford, obviously acting her acting, but then the other half of the time the facade seems to slip and she shines.

Halfway through, after we are treated to a solid prelude detailing the events of the few days leading up to the death of Gordon Dunning, Sydney Greenstreet literally enters from the wings as Captain Danbury, in charge of the investigation. He's as charming and jovial as you'd expect, perhaps even more so than usual. He's cleverly subtle, of course, but he seems truly alive at the same time, with twinkling eyes and a frequent giggle as if he was floating on a narcotic high. He doesn't get the lines that Claire Trevor does, but he's still a highly memorable cop.

Rosalind Russell may have had four Oscar nominations, two in the years immediately before this, for Sister Kenny and Mourning Becomes Electra, but Claire Trevor actually won one. To my mind that's a fair edge she has and this is her film. Beyond her usual knack of somehow staying in the background she dominates every scene she's in here, and Russell can only flounder on the same screen, only finding moments to shine herself when Trevor's nowhere to be seen. The only real downside I could find is the terrible cardboard cityscape used as a backdrop.

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