Monday, March 05, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Strictly Dishonorable (1931) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

STRICTLY DISHONORABLE (1931) is a pre-Code comedy based on a play by Preston Sturges. It's available on DVD from the Warner Archive as part of a two-film collection; the 1951 remake is on the same disc.

I reviewed the 1951 edition with Ezio Pinza and Janet Leigh last month and found it quite a charming surprise. I didn't find the original in the same class as the remake but I did find it rather cute and enjoyed it.

Southern girl Isabelle (Sidney Fox) is visiting New York with her fiance Henry (George Meeker), who hails from New Jersey. Henry was apparently a far different person when Isabelle agreed to marry him, but now that the ring is on her finger he's a first-class boor who argues with everyone and tries to control her every move.

Isabelle and Henry stop in at a speakeasy, where they meet two patrons who also have apartments upstairs: The Judge (Lewis Stone) and opera singer Gus (Paul Lukas). Henry is angered when Isabelle dances with the suave Gus and she finally has enough and breaks their engagement.

Of course, this means Isabelle is cast adrift in the big city with no family or resources; even if she were to get a train ticket home, her reputation may be ruined. To the protective Judge's consternation, Gus offers Isabelle a place to stay for the night while she regroups. Gus is attracted to Isabelle and has "strictly dishonorable" intentions, but he eventually backs off and sleeps on the Judge's sofa.

Come the dawn, Gus has decided to cease being a ladies' man and propose to Isabelle, but Henry returns...

This version of the story is a bit drawn out at 91 minutes; some of the dialogue meanders around, especially in the middle of the movie where Henry insists to a policeman (Sidney Toler of CHARLIE CHAN) that Gus and the Judge have kidnapped Isabelle. I think they could easily have told the story in 80 minutes. It's a bit ironic in that this film is shorter than the remake and covers a more compressed time frame, yet plays as a longer film than it needed to be.

That said, Stone, Lukas, and Fox are all quite good. It's easy to see why the kittenish Fox tempts the older Lukas to start thinking of swearing off other women and settling down to father 11 children. Stone lends his considerable gravitas to the Judge, who drinks a little too much but always looks out for the well-being of his friends. The irony of Stone playing a tippling judge will not be lost on fans of the ANDY HARDY series.

Gladys Lehman wrote the screenplay based on Sturges' play. It "opens up" the film less than the 1951 remake, showing its theatrical roots more firmly as -- other than an opening scene in a car -- it has just a handful of sets inside one building.

STRICTLY DISHONORABLE was directed by John M. Stahl. It was filmed by Karl Freund and the uncredited Jackson Rose. The film's cast is rounded out by William Ricciardi as the speakeasy owner.

The print of this 1931 film is somewhat soft but is quite watchable.

The two-film STRICTLY DISHONORABLE collection includes a trailer for the remake.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD set. 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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