Dizzy society matron Emily Kilbourne has a habit of hiring ex-cons and hobos as servants. Her latest find is a handsome "tramp" who shows up at her doorstep and soon ends up in a ... See full summary »
Norman Z. McLeod
Frederick Osborne, Junior is slightly agitated because his father, Senior, is acting more like a college student than the president of a huge merchantile fleet. Senior reveals that he is ... See full summary »
A stenographer who works for a lawyer falls in love with and marries a wealthy young man. His family has the marraige annulled, after which she gives birth to a child. Her former boss helps her out to ensure the child's welfare, which starts gossip that she is a "kept woman." Written by
In her autobiography, Gloria Swanson recalls this film as a glorious success amidst a run of relative failure -- critically acclaimed, financially profitable ('my cheapest picture since I became a star,' she reminisces proudly), and responsible for winning her an Oscar nomination. For my part, I probably wouldn't resent it quite so much if I hadn't had to fork out seventeen pounds for the humiliating privilege of sitting through such absolute tosh in the company of a guest to whom I'd recommended the film on the basis of Miss Swanson's estimation of her own performance...
The plot is pure Mills & Boon; outlandish coincidences, improbable motivations, bosom-heaving and fainting, and characters killed and injured at a flick of a coin for the sake of the plot. Characterisation is paper-thin, compensated for by a wealth of over-emoting; the dialogue is pretty bad and, alas, the delivery is worse -- huge slices of ham all round, with Miss Swanson perhaps the most flagrant offender. This film wouldn't know 'subtle' if it were hit over the head with it, yet somehow it contrives to be both wildly outlandish and tediously predictable. Long before the end I was counting the minutes -- 'oh no, not another reel'.
Gloria Swanson is really a little too old for her role here, and slips at times into the grotesque, overplaying her facial expressions and employing a throbbing, artificial vocal delivery that -- the inevitable comparison has to be made -- is all too reminiscent of her caricature act in "Sunset Boulevard" . Robert Ames is fairly wooden, while William Holden as his father pulls out all the stops to deliver a performance reminiscent of Germont senior in "La Traviata": indeed, the whole thing has something of the (soap) operatic about it. Kay Hammond is winsome and -- especially in her first scene -- wince-making as 'poor little Flip'; Blanche Friderici provides a Cockney nurse worthy of Dick Van Dyke, and all in all the best performance is turned in by Wally Albright Jr as the unselfconscious three-year-old.
The only parts of the dialogue which really rang true to me were the early office scenes and the scene with the reporters. The film was billed as a 'pre-Code' production, but fits the bill solely inasmuch as it alludes to illegitimacy (carefully avoided) and the status of a kept woman; it has nothing of the hard-boiled wisecracks and street realism of early sound productions such as "Virtue" (1932 -- Carole Lombard is a prostitute trying to go straight) or "Baby Face" (1933 -- Barbara Stanwyck sleeps her way to the top of a corporation). One gets the impression that the scriptwriters were out of their social and emotional depth with this material.
Original audiences were said to have tears pouring down their faces at the conclusion of the film, which I won't here give away. I'm afraid that the only discernible response from this audience was waves of giggles, and while I wasn't one of the offenders I could see only too clearly the cause. It's possible for a film and actors to pull off the most preposterous of plots and/or dialogue, but unfortunately this production fails to convince on almost all levels.
"Beyond the Rocks", the Rudolph Valentino/Gloria Swanson rediscovery that featured largely in an earlier London Film festival, sported a similarly extravagant plot but had at least a smidgeon of emotional depth to the characters -- it also has the inestimable advantage of silence. I'm afraid that to my eyes (and ears!) "The Trespasser" turns out to embody almost all the urban legends about silent-screen stars stuck on a sound-stage and required to talk; the writers don't know how to produce credible dialogue and the performers don't know how to deliver it.
Early talkies -- and even part-talkies -- can be good. Sadly, this isn't one of them.
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