Monday 10 December 2007

Transgression (1931) Herbert Brenon

Up until now the only Herbert Brenon picture I've seen was the Lon Chaney silent, Laugh, Clown, Laugh, but I've just been reading about him and his 1916 production A Daughter of the Gods in Frank Thompson's book Lost Films: Important Movies That Disappeared. It sounds fascinating, an early million dollar three hour spectacular with themes and artistic tricks apparently well before its time. However, as the title of the book suggests, it's a lost film.

Transgression isn't. It's a precode with Wavishing Kay Fwancis, Ricardo Cortez and someone called Paul Cavanagh who I don't know even though I seem to have seen him in a whole slew of films. Francis is Elsie Maury, whose husband Robert (Cavanagh) is about to leave on a year long business trip to the wilds of India. She wants to go with him but apparently it's not possible because wives are forbidden there or some such, so she's forced to head over to Paris for the duration.

The telling line comes early on as Elsie tries one last time to go to Bombay with her husband. He tells her, 'after two or three weeks in Paris you'll forget you ever had a husband at all'. Most of the plot has to do with her doing exactly that. It begins with wild spending of money but soon progresses to being courted by Latin lover Don Arturo de Borgus, played by Ricardo Cortez. She apparently stays the model wife for a year but just as her husband is due to return, her French friends help persuade her to visit Don Arturo at his Spanish home, El Mirador.

There are a few major problems with this film, though Kay Francis isn't one of them. She's as great as Ricardo Cortez isn't, as he's far from believable as the Latin lothario. His name works fine, but even that isn't real, given that he was born Jacob Krantz in Austria. What really spoils it is his American accent, as he was believable in the silents opposite people like Greta Garbo, but not in the sound era. The story is clunky and predictable and suffers from the fact that Elsie's year in Paris is completely glossed over, leaving us with no way to really believe her slide into seduction.

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