Out of the Ether: Radio Mysteries and Thrillers on Screen kicked off tonight with a double bill of THE TRIAL OF VIVIENNE WARE (1932) and NIGHT EDITOR (1946).
I needed an early night and regretfully missed out on the second film, NIGHT EDITOR, which I reviewed in 2010, but I thoroughly enjoyed the first movie of the evening, THE TRIAL OF VIVIENNE WARE. At 56 minutes, VIVIENNE WARE moves so fast it leaves the viewer feeling a bit thunderstruck by the time it's hurtled to its conclusion.
Joan Bennett, who was 21-22 when this was filmed, is lovely young Vivienne. As the movie begins, she greets her old friend John Sutherland (Donald Cook), an attorney newly returned to town who hints of his hopes to marry Vivienne. Alas, Vivienne is in love with much older Damon Fenwick (Jameson Thomas), who is clearly not good enough for her.
The film's breathless pacing, along with jumps forward and backward in time, are achieved by what Kenneth Turan calls "whip pans," where the camera spins back and forth to accomplish changes of scene. It's very effective -- and not a little dizzying!
It was especially fascinating to watch this, having seen Joan Bennett earlier this week as the gorgeous but hardened dark-haired floozy in SCARLET STREET (1945). She's a demure, lovely blonde in this one, a "sweet young thing" eons away from the more interesting actress she would become with experience.
The deep cast is filled with fun faces. Alan Dinehart, who was utterly hilarious the same year in BACHELOR'S AFFAIRS (1932), here is a perennially shouting prosecutor, although he has some nuance; when his case is legimately challenged, he says he wants to get to the truth, as a prosecutor should.
Zasu Pitts induces many chuckles as a radio correspondent describing the witnesses' wardrobes for the ladies in her audience. Her focus on fashion in the midst of a murder trial caused me to reflect that in some ways things haven't changed very much since 1932; media types can be just as frivolous!
It's the kind of pre-Code movie where you start looking around the edges of the picture, expecting Ward Bond to show up in a bit role -- and then laugh with a delighted "I knew it!" when a burly detective walks into the courtroom for a minute and sure enough, it's Ward Bond! Bond was in over a dozen films in 1932.
According to the introduction to the film, when the show was on the radio, newspapers would run reports as though it were a real trial, and audiences would write in with their plot suggestions.
The story and characterizations aren't especially deep -- there's no time for it! -- but it's entertaining all the way, over almost before you have time to blink. I found it great fun.
THE TRIAL OF VIVIENNE WARE was directed by William K. Howard and filmed by Ernest Palmer.