Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Letty Lynton (1932)

I've been savoring the anticipation of the pre-Code classic LETTY LYNTON for some months now, thanks to the kindness of Carrie. Thanksgiving weekend seemed like the perfect time to finally enjoy it...and enjoy it I certainly did.

Wealthy Letty Lynton (Joan Crawford) has been living a somewhat dissolute life in Montevideo as the mistress of possessive Emile Renaul (Nils Asther). Letty wants to end the relationship and sails for the United States, leaving Renaul behind. On the ship Letty finds true love in the person of Jerry Darrow (Robert Montgomery), who wants Letty to be his wife. When the boat docks, the evil Renaul is waiting for Letty. Renaul possesses some letters which Letty doesn't want Jerry to see. Will Renaul ever let Letty go and begin her new life?

Crawford and Montgomery are splendid as Letty and Jerry. Crawford never looked more beautiful, wearing stunning gowns by Adrian. (Half a million copies of the white "Letty Lynton gown" were sold by Macy's.) I've made it no secret that I've never been a Crawford fan, but she was very appealing as the tormented, lovestruck heroine. I liked her in this very much.

I've been trying to put my finger on the secret of Montgomery's appeal, and I think part of it is his intimate and sincere manner when he's being serious, combined with his great good humor. After watching this film I love him more than ever. Over the last couple of years I've seen 21 Montgomery movies -- 20 of those for the first time ever -- and as regular readers of this blog probably realize, I've seen most of those movies this year. It's been great fun exploring his career, having previously only been familiar with MR. AND MRS. SMITH (1941), HERE COMES MR. JORDAN (1941), and THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945). I'm hard-pressed to name a favorite, but LETTY LYNTON joins HIDE-OUT (1934), THE MAN IN POSSESSION (1931), TROUBLE FOR TWO (1936), and 1937's THE LAST OF MRS. CHEYNEY (also co-starring Crawford) as some of the titles I've found extra-special.

The last 10 minutes or so of LETTY LYNTON is pure pre-Code heaven; as Leonard Maltin puts it, the film has "a nifty pre-Code finale." The final scenes are daring, unexpected, romantic, and more than a little shocking, if only in terms of what one expects from an "old movie." My lips are sealed, but let's just say you would never have seen an ending like this after the Production Code was enforced starting in July 1934!

The strong supporting cast includes Lewis Stone, who makes the most of his one scene as a District Attorney. The more I see of Stone's work, the more I appreciate him. May Robson is Letty's chilly mother, while Walter Walker and Emma Dunn are appealing as Jerry's kind parents. Louise Closser Hale plays Letty's devoted maid, Miranda.

The film was directed by Clarence Brown and runs 84 minutes.

Here's a review from Lauren at The Life Cinematic, which pronounces the film "an extraordinarily fine romantic melodrama... The resolution is probably something that could only happen to the fabulously wealthy, but my inclination toward social responsibility has not yet returned. Crawford’s great in this, and Montgomery’s a perfect stand-by-your-gal match. A really superlative film of its kind in every way." I'm in complete agreement.

Photos can be seen at The Films of Joan Crawford. (Warning: significant plot spoilers are here and at the Wikipedia and TCM links below.)

LETTY LYNTON has been generally unavailable for screening since 1936, due to MGM losing a copyright case which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Copies are floating around -- i.e., Leonard Maltin has reviewed the film for his CLASSIC MOVIE GUIDE, and it can be seen in sections on YouTube -- but to my knowledge the film hasn't been shown on TV or in theaters for decades. The copy I saw was watchable, but only just. I would dearly love to see it again in crisp black and white, with the actors and Adrian's creations seen as they deserve.

Whatever the copyright issues may have been, it's criminal that a film like this is still out of general circulation after over seven decades. The artistry of those who made it should not be lost for all time. Hopefully at some point the legalities will be cleared up so that the film can be widely seen, as it deserves.

Please click here and register your request at the TCM website for the film to be released on DVD.

My thanks again to Carrie for making it possible for me to see the movie! It provided a great start to the holiday weekend.

Update: Fabulous Letty Lynton and A Glimmer of Hope for Letty Lynton.


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