Friday 25 September 2009

Ann Carver's Profession (1933)

Director: Edward Buzzell
Stars: Fay Wray and Gene Raymond
I haven't seen Gene Raymond in a while and here he is as the most popular man on campus at Hampden University. He's Billy Graham, not the preacher but the college football star, and the only opinion he cares about is the one who can't vote because she just works at the local cafe. She's the Ann Carver of the title, played by Fay Wray, still riding high after her launch to fame opposite King Kong. She's riding high here, studying hard and passing her bar exam. They settle down into married life with Bill trying to put his football days behind him by becoming an architect. He plans to earn her a million bucks and rebuild the cityscape but then it isn't his name in the title.

You can't imagine that a film called Ann Carver's Profession is all about the trials and tribulations of being a housewife, which is what she initially becomes. Sure enough, she impresses Judge Bingham at a party by her free thinking and Bill is enthused to let her know that he wants to hire her. She's been driving herself nuts doing nothing at home and leaps at the chance, thus setting up the story. Graham moves up slowly but surely, getting a raise here or a paragraph at the bottom of a column in the paper because he's going to umpire some game or other. Meanwhile his wife leaps from strength to strength as an attorney.

It's pretty impossible to miss that this is a precode, even if you miss the bedroom with only a double bed in it. The lead character is a woman, she's a capable lady who rises high in her profession and does it on her own terms. She even does it under her maiden name, not that of her husband. When her husband decides he's had enough of playing second fiddle in their marriage, not least because he discovers that his salary isn't even enough to pay the servants' wages, he goes with his heart and becomes a singer, crooning in a club, and the rift starts growing on both sides. He resents her ability to earn so much more than he can, she resents his choice of career. Of course there has to be a split and a reconciliation, but being a precode, that's a bit more extreme than you may have expected.

There's a little here for Gene Raymond, but the film is all about Fay Wray, who was being called upon to carry the whole story. I'm a fan of hers so I relish each opportunity to see her carry a film while wondering about her ability to do so. It's not a lack of a talent that hinders her, as she had plenty of that, it's the fact that her nature was supportive and comfortable and empathetic. She was great as the scream queen and she was great in supporting roles in non-genre films too. She enunciated well enough to play society girl roles but she was down to earth to play tomboys. The only task she didn't really fit was the one she has here, to carry everything on her own shoulders.

She does a variable job. Every now and then there's a scene that just doesn't work, such as one early on that has her listening to a conversation from the side and giggling terribly. Every now and again there's a peach of a scene, like the one that has her seething at her husband from the audience at the Club Mirador as a girl kisses him before heading on stage. She's blistering in that scene, every bit the star as the shamed wife, but she spends most of the film a little less confident than Ann Carver should be and just about right for Fay Wray.

It's an easy film to rate. It's OK as a thirties film, with some great scenes for Wray and a fast paced script but one with more than a few conveniences. It's OK as a precode too, striking an early blow for feminism but then sadly copping out at the end. It's a great opportunity for Wray fans to see her flex her acting muscles. It's less of an opportunity for Gene Raymond fans, as his character isn't much to write home about and his crooning is not particularly impressive. Nobody else really gets any opportunities at all. So, it's a welcome picture but utterly average.

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