Thursday, October 20, 2011

Joyce in Lena Rivers (1932)

“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 here.

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