Saturday, September 14, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Passion Flower (1930) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Kay Francis stars in PASSION FLOWER (1930), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

While Francis is most strongly associated with her work at Warner Bros., at this stage in her career she made films for multiple studios, including MGM and Paramount. Her costars in MGM's PASSION FLOWER were longtime MGM contract player Lewis Stone as well as Charles Bickford and Kay Johnson, stars of the previous year's MGM film DYNAMITE (1930).

DYNAMITE has been directed by Cecil B. DeMille, and as it happens, PASSION FLOWER was directed by Cecil's older brother, William C. DeMille.

In PASSION FLOWER Kay plays Dulce Morado, in a loveless marriage to a nice -- and very wealthy -- man, Antonio (Stone).

When Dulce's cousin Cassy (Johnson) marries the family chauffeur Dan (Bickford) -- shades of DOWNTON ABBEY! -- her father (Winter Hall) disowns her. Dulce and Antonio try to gift Dan and Cassy with a small farm next to Morado's estate on their wedding day, but Dan is too proud to accept.

Flash forward half a decade, and Dan has been trapped in a job as a stevedore for the duration of the marriage, and he and Cassy are trying to raise two children in a small garret apartment. When Dan loses his job, he decides it's finally time to move to the country. Dan and Cassy's former landlady (the always-amusing ZaSu Pitts) comes along to live with the family as their housekeeper.

Things are looking up for Dan and Cassy with a new life and a healthier environment for their little ones...and then Dan and Dulce spoil it all by falling in love.

This was an absorbing 79 minutes, though I questioned some of the character motivations. After Dan's long struggle to independently support his family, I'm not sure how much sense it made for him to jump from that to becoming Dulce's "do nothing" lover, but perhaps once he gave in on the farm, that role was a logical next step. And the screenplay does at least make that an issue which bothers Dan.

It was also hard to buy Dulce and Dan betraying the loyal, steadfast Cassy to such an extent; it seemed especially cruel given how she had cheerfully stood by Dan through thick and thin, but then again people don't always do the reasonable thing. The ultimate resolution was interesting.

The leads are all fine, though I've never found Bickford very compelling as a leading man. Johnson is a bit reminiscent of Karen Morley as the long-suffering wife, while Francis is always good as a bored society type. Stone, a fine actor, is pushed to the background in this one and mostly sits around frowning with concern.

The melodrama is lightened by Pitts' amusing deadpan deliveries, and the late Dick Moore, whose birthday was last week on September 12th, is absolutely adorable as Dan and Cassy's son Tommy. He would have been about four or five when he filmed this. I probably could have watched a whole movie consisting only of scenes with Moore playing with his puppy, he's so cute.

Interesting faces spotted in bit parts in this film are Mary Carlisle and future Oscar winner Ray Milland as party guests; Carlisle can just barely be glimpsed, but the young Milland has several lines. He's seen at the left of the DVD cover at the top of this post.

PASSION FLOWER was filmed by Hal Rosson. The script by Martin Flavin was based on a novel by Kathleen Norris. L.E. Johnson and Edith Fitzgerald also contributed to the script.

As is sometimes the case with films of this vintage, the soundtrack of this Warner Archive DVD is a bit fuzzy at times; I had to turn it up louder than normal to be sure I was catching everything. The picture is soft but overall quite acceptable for its age. 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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