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Jeanne Eagels plays the bored and restless Leslie Crosbie who turns to another man, Geoffrey Hammond (Herbert Marshall) for attention when neglected by her husband Robert (Reginald Owen). Robert decides to go out for the evening to pick up a new rifle. Leslie's calm vanishes as she awaits an answer to a letter she has written Hammond. He has found a new love - a beautiful unscrupulous native woman Li Ti (Lady Tsei Mei) and has discarded Leslie. Written by
Eagels fascinates in her only surviving sound film
I was fortunate to see a rare screening of this (early) 1929 film. The lure for me was Jeanne Eagels, and her performance did not disappoint. Her screen presence is amazing - there is scarcely a performance from this early talkie period to compare it with. If Eagels was alive at the time (she died in October 1929), if Paramount had more clout with the MGM-dominated AMPAS at the time, she surely would have won the Academy Award for Best Actress (it went to Mary Pickford in one of the WORST performances of the period, in the nearly-unwatchable "Coquette"). Her final confrontation with her husband, one of the most dynamic pieces of film acting from ANY period, is alone worth the price of admission.
This film exists only as a work print, without final dubbed-in music and sound effects, which may be disconcerting to some viewers, but thank God Eagels' performance survives intact. The storyline is similar to the 1940 remake but without several plot variations imposed by the Hays Office, and in many ways this earlier film seems more modern, complete with a few profanities and obvious depictions of a brothel (that scene, with Eagels' character humiliated in front of a bevy of Asian prostitutes, is amazing). The casual racism of colonialists on display throughout the film may be off-putting when viewed today, but is historically and dramatically appropriate.
Rights to this film apparently belong to Universal, so the chance of its being distributed on DVD - along with the many wonderful Paramount pre-1934-code films, the brilliantly restored Technicolor "Follow Thru" and "Paramount On Parade", etc. - is slender-to-none. No studio cares less about its pre-1948 catalog, especially the Paramount titles, and we can only pray that whoever heads their video division will be replaced by someone who knows and loves this eminently under-exploited catalog. In the meantime, Run, don't walk if this is screened in your area, and experience this beautiful and vibrant star who influenced a generation of actresses (not the least of which, Bette Davis, who took much from Eagels).
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