Thursday, October 20, 2011
“Pre Code Shirley Tempe” might be the best description for the heated Southern drama Lena Rivers, which recently came out on DVD under its reissue title The Sin of Lena Rivers. The film focuses on elfin actress Charlotte Henry playing a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who bears the stigma of illegitimate parentage. Henry’s Lena Rivers is raised by her grandmother (Beryl Mercer doing her usual kindhearted mama thing) after he mother dies in childbirth. After the grandfather dies in a boating accident, the duo are invited to live with a rich uncle in their relatives’ plush Kentucky mansion. The girl doesn’t fit in with the hoi polloi, preferring the company of the servants, but one neighbor (James Kirkwood) has a strange bond with the girl — even gifting her with a wild horse that only she can tame. As it turns out, the neighbor is the girl’s father and her ability to turn the horse into a racing champion is what will endear her to the others. A rather sweet film that is marred somewhat by its condescending attitude towards black people (Henry even observes that they’re “like children” when she spies a group of them relaxing and singing). Charlotte Henry was best known for playing Alice in the flop 1933 version of Alice in Wonderland; here she is merely okay.
In a good-sized role, Joyce Compton appears as the vixenish Southern belle who gets jealous when Charlotte Henry comes between her and her beau (Morgan Galloway). Her scenes are worth a peek in this otherwise routine, overly predictable outing.
The DVD for Lena Rivers is a typical Alpha Home Video outing with scratchy picture and muffled sound quality. The Spring 2011 release can be bought at Amazon.com here.
Saturday, October 1, 2011
Was it the blonde hair? Joyce got another chance to play a temptress in Sing, Sinner, Sing, a 1933 production from the budget-level studio Majestic.
Sing, Sinner, Sing is a rather ordinary pre-Code drama based a the real life fraças between singer Libby Holman and her husband, tobacco heir Zachary Smith Reynolds, who was found shot to death under mysterious circumstances in their apartment. Actress Leila Hyams plays the Holman stand-in, a torch singer who shares a stormy romance with gambling ship captain Paul Lukas. She escapes his clutches with a wealthy playboy (Don Dillaway), but after they marry she finds that her new husband is carrying on with a hotsy-totsy blonde — and that's where Joyce Compton comes in. Probably the best reason to see this hoary drama would be Leila Hyams, who is attractive and somewhat fragile in a way that reminds me of the slightly later Virginia Bruce. She also sings a few numbers in an agreeable (apparently non-dubbed) low voice. The story is pretty blah, with lousy turns from Lukas and Dillaway. The production is moderately nice for a low-budget picture, indulging in the usual settings of shipboard, nightclub, and penthouse (on sets probably borrowed from the big studios). This kind of material has been done much better in several Warner Bros. potboilers of the era — only die-hard Pre Code devotees would glean anything worthwhile from this.
Sing, Sinner, Sing debuted on DVD in a 2009 Alpha Home Video release. Like most Alpha product, the picture is scratched up, the sound is muddy and there are zero extras. It's better than nothing, however! Buy at Amazon.com here.