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C. Aubrey Smith
Norma Besant, daughter of a Southern doctor, is an incorrigible flirt and has many boys on her string. She begins to favor Michael Jeffrey, who, shiftless and hot-tempered but fundamentally honorable, is warned off by her father. When Michael returns after a long absence, the pair are innocently compromised, and Dr. Besant's old-South paternal rage brings tragedy. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
The Broadway play COQUETTE ran for a year in the late 20s, starring Helen Hayes. Mary Pickford hoped that this vehicle would be a solid entrance into the new sound medium as well as scuttle her "little Mary" image that had plagued her for the last decade.
At age 37, Pickford is too old to play Norma Besant, BUT she looks great so the age factor is not really a problem. The problem is the play. It's creaky and far-fetched and doesn't work as a late 20s film. The fault is not with Pickford, who turns in a terrific performance although in a few spots it all gets rather stagy.
Also very good is Johnny Mack Brown as Michael. He exhibits some real fireworks in the argument scene with Pickford's father (John St. Polis). But these 2 good performers can't save the film from the rotten acting of St. Polis (he plays a despicable character) and William Janney who plays brother Jimmy. Matt Moore plays a sad-sack suitor to no great effect, and Henry Kolker is over the top as the prosecuting lawyer.
The screenplay is probably too close to the stage play, and director Sam Taylor seems to have absolutely NO ear for dialog or eye for composition.
Despite the antiquated story about southern pride and the value of truth, Pickford and Brown are well worth watching. Louise Beavers is also good as the maid. The court room scenes are solid with Pickford giving a terrific performance as the irony of the murder become clear. Her final scene, walking from the court house and down the street is quite memorable in its beauty and simplicity.
Yes, Mary Pickford won an Oscar for this performance, but the award is likely for the 20 years of films and superstardom she brought to this talkie debut. She was the biggest star in films for many, many years and deserved the Oscar for this brave performance, even if the film itself is not terribly good.
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