Saturday, March 28, 2020

Tonight's Movie: The Flame of New Orleans (1941) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Marlene Dietrich stars in the entertaining THE FLAME OF NEW ORLEANS (1941), which Kino Lorber will release on Blu-ray on March 31st.

THE FLAME OF NEW ORLEANS is a good-natured period film directed by Rene Clair, who would go on to make the comedic fantasies I MARRIED A WITCH (1942) and IT HAPPENED TOMORROW (1944).

Clair is said by IMDb to have also made uncredited contributions to the script by Norman Krasna, who himself wrote many enjoyable films, BACHELOR MOTHER (1939) and IT STARTED WITH EVE (1941) being just two examples among many.

Dietrich plays Claire, a poor adventuress out to nab a wealthy husband in old New Orleans. She lands Charles (Roland Young), a banker, but she's torn between financial security with the dim-witted Charles and her growing feelings for Robert (Bruce Cabot), a handsome but near-penniless ship's captain.

Matters grow complicated when rumors about Claire's past begin circulating, threatening her engagement, but she manages to convince Charles that it was her look-alike cousin Lili who had the wild reputation. Robert, however, suspects Lili and her cousin are the same woman...

This is a light little confection which runs a quick 79 minutes. I first enjoyed it in 2013, and I think I may have enjoyed it even more this time around, as over the years I've gained much more of an appreciation for Dietrich. She's quite good in this juggling multiple personas -- a whispering, wilting flower for Charles; assertive, romantic equal with Robert; and tough Cousin Lili. Dietrich and a well-written script manage to keep the viewer from getting confused, and in the end the film leaves the viewer smiling. A viewer can't ask for more than that!

In tone the film reminds me a bit of the Western comedy TRAIL OF THE VIGILANTES (1940), which was released by the same studio, Universal, the previous year. In each case the film takes a standard genre plot, which could easily have been a serious drama, but transforms it into a lighthearted and at times even goofy tale which is a lot of fun.

This was a rare "A" film lead for Cabot, who does a good enough job that one wonders a bit why he was so often stuck as villains or in support. Nonetheless, he had a great four-decade career, including many films with his friend John Wayne and concluding with DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971).

The film is notable for giving the wonderful Theresa Harris a real chance to shine as Claire's savvy maid Clementine, who plots with Claire and is sometimes the driving force behind the woman, pushing Claire toward financial security. Harris is always entertaining, and it's a shame that the conventions of the day kept a black actress of such charm from having even bigger and better parts in other films.

The top supporting cast also includes Andy Devine, Eddie Quillan, Frank Jenks, Franklin Pangborn, Mary Treen, Laura Hope Crews, Mischa Auer, Melville Cooper, Clarence Muse, Anne Revere, and Dorothy Adams, with narration by Robert Paige. Whatever frustrations there may be with the limited casting opportunities for minority actors of this era, the flip side is that only in classic Hollywood were deep casts like that the norm.

The movie was filmed in beautiful black and white by future director Rudolph Mate. The Kino Lorber print looks quite pleasing, with a strong soundtrack.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray includes the trailer and an audio commentary track by Lee Gambin and Rutanya Alda. Also included are trailers for seven additional Dietrich films available from Kino Lorber, along with a trailer for Roland Young's THE YOUNG IN HEART (1938).

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


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