Valid socially responsible adaptation of Coward play
I am amazed that I am the first reviewer of this film for IMDb and that I am also the first to provide a timing for it.
The prologue on the DVD release fills us in on a number of historical facts about the original Noel Coward play and its only film adaptation, this silent from 1928. (British TV productions from 1964 and 1969 at, respectively, 80 and 70 minutes may or may not have survived as well.)
The only extant print of the film is a "slightly shortened" 9.5 millimeter home movie version. As such, it is fuzzy, being so much removed from the original source, but still quite watchable. As an added bonus, it is tinted.
From Wikipedia, we learn the three-act play "depicts the sexual vanity of a rich, aging beauty and her troubled relationship with her son." In the play the composer son had a cocaine habit, a veiled reference to his homosexuality, taboo in Britain for a stage presentation. In the film he does not, but uses a ploy involving cocaine use to finally turn the last act's denouement to a satisfactory conclusion.
In essence we have a young man, Nicky, and his fiancé, Bunty. Mom, Florence, has a gigolo, Tom. Complications ensue when we learn that Bunty and Tom were once lovers. Now the four must cohabitate under the same roof.
The play premiered in the UK in 1924 and was Coward's first commercial success. His understudy was John Gielgud. The NY production ran the 1925-26 season. It has enjoyed many revivals on stage. Considering Coward, Gielgud and Novello were all gay in private life, the torch was handed over appropriately.
The film itself: the prologue sums it up as "a bold depiction of drug-fueled hedonism amongst Britain's Bright Young Things." There are eight players.
Novello gives a sensitive and restrained performance as the mother-devoted, confused son, Nicky. He is, as always, beautiful to look at. This is not one of his best performances, any good-looking young man would have done, but he is effective and sincere.
Willette Kershaw, bearing a remarkable resemblance to Laurette Taylor, by way of Claudette Colbert, is excellent as the vain mother, Florence, trying to hold onto youth at all costs. This would be a good double bill with DANCING MOTHERS. Her friend, Helen, who is described as "having an infinite capacity for giving pain," does try to smack Florence into reality on a number of occasions, to no avail. On the evening Florence is seeing FAUST with her gigolo, Helen reminds her of "what it cost Faust to keep young."
Frances Doble as Bunty and Alan Hollis as Tom do well in supporting roles.
The film strips all reference to Nicky's homosexuality and here he is not a drug addict. He simply removes cocaine from the possession of a young dancer, Yvette, he befriends, and later uses them as a subterfuge to bargain with his mother if she will give up her gigolo, he will give up his "non-existant" drug habit.
The title derives from Tom's speech about the house "being a vortex of false values."
The best scene occurs towards the end when Nicky confronts his mother and forces the change in her behavior very reminiscent of the Hamlet/Gertrude scene in HAMLET. It's also Novello's shining moment.
The prologue lasts 1:27 and the film proper comes in at 1:02:30. Original release time was 70 minutes.
All in all, it's a relevant comment on society gone wrong in the 1920s and as valid a silent film adaptation of the original play as one could have wished for. Not a great film by any means, but a socially responsible one.
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