Saturday, October 04, 2014

Tonight's Movie: One Night at Susie's (1930) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

ONE NIGHT AT SUSIE'S (1930) is an entertaining pre-Code melodrama just released by the Warner Archive.

ONE NIGHT AT SUSIE'S stars Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Billie Dove as Dick and Mary. Dick's a press agent who is the foster son of a boarding house owner, Susie (Helen Ware); Susie also happens to be quite the mob operator. Mary is a lovely chorus girl Dick plans to wed.

One night a lecherous producer (John Loder) attacks Mary in his apartment and she kills him in self-defense. Dick insists on taking the rap and goes to Sing Sing. He spends his nights in prison writing a play for Mary in hopes of making her a great star and giving her financial security, but despairs when she can't interest a producer. As Dick's health declines, Susie agrees to be the mistress of a producer (Claude Fleming) if he will produce Dick's play. Dick is thrilled when his play is produced and his health rebounds.

Susie is initially horrified when she learns that Mary has been unfaithful; however, when Susie learns that Mary sacrificed herself to save Dick, Susie determines to protect Mary from a blackmailer and secure Dick and Mary's happiness as Dick is released from prison.

This is a diverting little movie. I've always liked Fairbanks, although he overplays a tiny bit in some of his earlier films, including this one. Regardless, he's likeable and sympathetic.

The plot is somewhat reminiscent of the later film FAITHLESS (1932), in which Tallulah Bankhead becomes a prostitute in order to save her husband's life, but Billie Dove's character is much more appealing than Bankhead was.

This was one of Dove's last few movies, and she's quite good as the beleaguered heroine. I'd previously only seen her in her last film, BLONDIE OF THE FOLLIES (1932) and thought she did a good job in that as well. Poor Mary has so many woes that it wouldn't be surprising if she also ended up tied to train tracks or staggering shoeless through the snow, but at least in the end she has the rough-hewn Susie looking out for her.

It's never made clear why Susie wields such power over mobsters, especially as she doesn't live a wealthy lifestyle. Although there's not enough back story, Susie is an unusual and intriguing character. Actress Ware also had a nice supporting role in THE KEYHOLE (1933) with Kay Francis. She passed away in 1939.

Along with lower-class apartment and boarding house sets, there's a fabulous Art Deco apartment and a really odd courtroom set design; the entire scene where Dick is sentenced to prison almost seems as though it's a dream sequence.

The movie was directed by John Francis Dillon, who died in 1934; it was filmed by Ernest Haller, who would go on to win an Oscar for GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), shared with Ray Rennahan. Haller received six additional nominations.

Although IMDb says ONE NIGHT AT SUSIE'S is 85 minutes and the Warner Archive box says it's 90 minutes, the DVD ran 61 minutes; that's a typical pre-Code length and nothing seemed to be missing storywise so I'm not sure what accounts for the varied reports.

There are no extras on the DVD. Like many other films of its era, the print is slightly fuzzy and grainy, but it's a perfectly acceptable print with good sound quality.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.


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