Sunday, May 07, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Our Modern Maidens (1929) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Joan Crawford stars in OUR MODERN MAIDENS (1929), a silent film available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

OUR MODERN MAIDENS is part of an informal flapper trilogy starring Crawford and Anita Page. The films, released over three consecutive years, don't share any story or character connections but have similar themes and settings.

The silent film OUR DANCING DAUGHTERS (1928) preceded OUR MODERN MAIDENS, with the talkie OUR BLUSHING BRIDES (1930) following. The three films combine to provide a fascinating picture of life among the rich in a bygone era.

Crawford plays wealthy Billie, who's secretly engaged to Gil (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). Gil has just graduated from school and is hoping for a diplomatic position, and Billie is determined that Gil start out at the top, in Paris. She makes clear that this is what she wants...and she's going to get it for him no matter what.

Billie plays up to an older diplomat, Abbott (Rod La Rocque), in order to assure his help for Gil's career. Gil, troubled by Billie's neglect, has a momentary lapse with sweet "Kansas" (Page), who idolizes him.

Kansas later ends up trying to hide the fact that she's in the family way, and Abbott is devastated when he realizes that Billie intends to marry Gil. Meanwhile Billie and Gil are each having second thoughts but plan to go ahead with their wedding...oh, the tangled web we weave!

It's an interesting film, not least because Crawford's calculating Billie is charismatic but not necessarily likeable, as she brushes aside Gil's concerns and leads Abbott on...and on. She ultimately realizes the error of her ways and finds a way to make up for her past sins in a rather unusual fashion.

Page was the villain of OUR DANCING DAUGHTERS, playing a devious woman who pretends to be sweet, but here her character is a nice girl who lets her infatuation lead her to make a risky choice.

Nor are Fairbanks and La Rocque's characters always perfect gentlemen, but, as is often the case, the fact that the movie is about a flawed group of people is a big part of what makes it interesting. Without their choices and poor decisions there wouldn't be a movie!

Crawford and Fairbanks were married shortly before this film was released, a union which would last nearly half a decade. It's interesting to note that Crawford's character shares her real-life nickname, Billie; Fairbanks refers to her as Billie throughout his autobiography THE SALAD DAYS, which I recently acquired.

Fairbanks has a great moment in a party scene where he starts out doing impressions of John Barrymore and John Gilbert...then impersonates his father, Douglas Sr., in his role as Robin Hood! When he throws back his head and laughs he looks eerily like his father. Besides adding to the fun of watching the movie, it strikes me as a great little bit of cinema history.

Josephine Dunn is particularly good as Ginger, a friend of Billie and Kansas who carefully observes and comments on the goings-on. Her boyfriend is played by Edward Nugent, who also played a key role in OUR DANCING DAUGHTERS.

OUR MODERN MAIDENS was directed by Jack Conway. It was filmed by Oliver T. Marsh. The running time is 76 minutes.

OUR MODERN MAIDENS has a synchronized music track, including radio broadcast where an announcer's voice is heard.

The Warner Archive DVD print is quite good, save for some random scratches. There are no extras.

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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