Sunday, April 16, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Smart Woman (1931) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Mary Astor stars as a SMART WOMAN (1931), just released by the Warner Archive.

Astor plays Nancy Gibson, who arrives back in the United States after spending time in Europe attending to her sick mother. Nancy is eager to reunite with her beloved husband Don (Robert Ames), but when she arrives home she's informed by Don's sister (Ruth Weston) and brother-in-law (Edward Everett Horton) that Don has fallen for a blonde gold-digger named Peggy (Noel Francis) and wants a divorce.

Nancy is deeply hurt but quickly decides that the best way to get Don back is to pretend to be fine with a divorce, attracting Don by playing hard to get. To that end she enlists the help of Sir Guy Harrington (John Halliday), who fell for Nancy during their Atlantic crossing but who cares for her so much he's willing to forgo his own happiness for hers.

SMART WOMAN is a very entertaining and fast-paced film which runs just 68 minutes. The film has a strong, funny, and occasionally moving script. Astor is superb, quietly conveying Nancy's grief -- and eventual joy -- all the while putting on a brave, nonchalant front.

Unfortunately the ill-fated Ames, who died shortly after this film was released, doesn't register much personality on screen as Astor's dumb, selfish husband; fortunately that's more than made up for by the rest of the cast, starting with the impish Halliday, who quickly sizes up the characters of all involved and does his part to help put Nancy's life back together.

Francis is solid as the homewrecker, whose "love" for Don is easily lured away by Sir Guy's money and title, and Gladys Gale is good as her mother. They're described by Horton's character as "One of those blondes - with a mother. They hunt together. What the gal shoots down, Mama drags home!"

Horton has an excellent part as another of Nancy's allies, slyly dropping a hint to Peggy that Don's finances are questionable, and Weston is good as Don's sister, who can't believe her brother is being such a dimwit. I particularly enjoy Horton in early '30s roles such as this or ROAR OF THE DRAGON (1933) where he's less fluttery and more decisive than in some of his character parts.

It's always fun to spot future cowboy star Bill Elliott in '30s films; here he has no lines but is clearly seen over Astor's shoulder in a pack of reporters when her ship docks.

SMART WOMAN was directed by Gregory La Cava. It was filmed by Nicholas Musuraca.

The Warner Archive DVD has no extras. The 1931 print occasionally shows its age, but for the most part it looks and sounds quite good. I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend it.

As a side note, this film has no connection to the 1948 Constance Bennett film SMART WOMAN, which is also available from the Warner Archive.

For more on SMART WOMAN, please visit a post by Cliff Aliperti at Immortal Ephemera.

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 from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDS and Blu-rays are sold.

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