Saturday, July 13, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Beauty for Sale (1933) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Madge Evans stars in BEAUTY FOR SALE (1933), an engrossing pre-Code drama recently released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

BEAUTY FOR SALE -- not to be confused with the later BEAUTY FOR THE ASKING (1939), also available from the Warner Archive -- is the story of Letty (Evans), who goes to work at Madame Sonia's, a high-class beauty salon owned by Sonia Barton (Hedda Hopper).

Letty and her friends Carol (Una Merkel) and Jane (Florine McKinney) all suffer romantic trials and tribulations. Letty falls for a wealthy married man, Mr. Sherwood (Otto Kruger), whose wife (Alice Brady) is a client, but she asks him for time to think over whether or not to begin a physical relationship.

Carol is also keeping company with a married man (Charley Grapewin), while Jane falls for Madame Sonia's son (Phillips Holmes), who abandons her after learning she's pregnant. After watching Carol become an increasingly cynical gold-digger and seeing Jane's tragedy unfold, Letty resolves to break things off with Sherwood. Hiding, using back doors, and potentially ruining her life isn't for her, despite her genuine love for him.

On the rebound Letty agrees to marry the boorish Bill (Eddie Nugent), who's been carrying a torch for her, but then surprising developments ensue...

I found this a most enjoyable 87 minutes. The tone is a bit all over the place, from shocking dramatic moments to almost manic comedy in the last couple scenes, but despite that it works. I really enjoyed Letty's saga. The solid script by Eve Greene and Zelda Sears was based on the Faith Baldwin novel BEAUTY.

I've seen Madge Evans in a number of '30s romances and always enjoy her. She's very good here as a woman wrestling with hard choices. I liked the fact that while she was genuinely tempted by love, she was also clear-eyed enough to realize what a backstairs relationship would mean for her life; I especially appreciated she had the spine to take a firm position and stick to it, rather than agreeing and then suffering the inevitable consequences. Sherwood tries to tell her "We're different," but she's smart enough to know better.

Merkel is always fun to watch, and I also found McKinney sympathetic as the girl who was deluded about the possibility of a future with a mama's boy who wasn't about to annoy his wealthy mother by marrying one of her employees. Hopper is superb as the haughty business owner who clearly looks down her nose at the women in her employ.

Best of all is Isabel Jewell (billed Isobel here) as Hortense, the salon receptionist who deals with the customers in haughty, high-class tones, then barks orders to the employees in a much lower-class voice. She's great.

BEAUTY FOR SALE was directed by Richard Boleslawski and filmed by James Wong Howe. There are some great shots, including a very dramatic moment with a door closing on Jane.

The cast also includes May Robson and Bonita Granville, who has one scene as a bratty little girl in the salon.

The print is on the soft side, though generally quite good, other than occasional scratches and one noticeably large "blip." The soundtrack is strong.

There are no extras on the disc.

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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