Charming Sinners is the second dialogue film based on the work of England's Somerset Maugham. The film was something new for the cinema. It was not about action. It was about wordsexpertly delivered by a well-seasoned cast. Clive Brook, Montague Love, and William Powell had been stage veterans since the 1910's. Ruth Chatterton and Laura Hope Crews (who plays her mother) had worked together for years in the Henry Miller Company. Charming Sinners was perfect turf for Chatterton, who dominates the picture and delivers with poignancy and bite.
Chatterton, as the wife of an errant husband (Clive Brook, appropriately stiff and full of himself), opts for the single standard with the sole purpose of getting him back. Enter the polished William Powell, a former beau who is still in love with her. Together, they have much more chemistry. There is an exquisite musical interlude at the piano. While Chatterton plays and sings a wistful melody, Powell pours his heart out. She dismisses his ardor with an appreciative laugh. The question is: will Ruth take a vacation from marriage and rendezvous with Powell in Italy? Although the film ends differently from the stage production, it is an effective, thoughtful finish for an engaging frolic amongst the upper-crust.
Filmed in early 1929, critics were impressed by the film and its players, but complained about the sound quality. It was shot in the wee hours of the morning (typical of early sound features), and it's a marvel that the players pulled off such an amusing piece of work. Robert Milton and Dorothy Arzner co-directed the film. It must be pointed out that the tragic Mary Nolan, the only non-stage veteran (except the Ziegfeld Follies), is excellent as the pampered schemer with whom Brook is smitten. Always thinking and plotting, she turns her distasteful character into something peculiarly fascinating. She proved that some silent stars didn't need to fear the influx of stage veterans with the advent of sound film.
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