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Is there a pre-code with Warren Williams not worth watching?
I don't need to repeat the other favorable reviews - I agree with most everything favorable, including the assertion that the movie is not a "hack job." I think the plot does make sense and it kept me relishing just how much "free love" was in the air among young people of the late 20s/early 30s. But old man Raymond is the voice of fascism and his success in the movie is a grim foreboding of the repression that would soon sweep northern European societies (of which I include the US) in the early 30s, where the Democrats ascent to power in the US was accompanied by the "sexual fascism" of the production code. So I think this movie holds up well and is loaded with both wistfulness and chills.
This is the first movie I have seen of Dolores Costello and her facial expressions are delicious even if her verbal delivery is a little wooden. I agree with the favorable assessments of Polly Walters (what a fabulous Betty Boop voice!) and Warren Williams, but disagree with the generally negative takes on Jack Donohue, playing Bobby Brandon, which I read as successfully and self-consciously "rich Irish," right down to the Brooklyn way Jack says "paehty." And yes Anthony Bushell is despicable as the young lover, but somehow I found his performance right, like the repressed bisexual son of a powerful father, doing everything Dad says as a result of his own confused sexuality. Of course, that read puts pressure on his love affair with Dolores, and that's not very convincing, though it won't be the first time I've seen a woman throw herself at a sexually confused young man, attracted to his vulnerability and refreshed by his lack of machismo, so ultimately I was convinced of their love, and the scene where he sleeps on her breast is truly touching, and a beautiful symbol of his weakness.
The Raymond father/son relationship is one of the best illustrations I have seen of how "conventional Protestant morality" was foundering among the Anglosphere "elite" of the late 20s/early 30s. Here's a fellow, ol' man Raymond, who insists he is the soul probity and yet finds himself committing ghastly deeds, and getting away with them. A fine portrait of the corruption of power and the impending death within a generation of conventional Anglosphere morality.
Maybe the Warner Brothers didn't know how radical they were being, but they knew what it took to tell a good story, and they succeeded here, even if you can feel the furies descending on this celebration of "pre-code mores," where murder goes unpunished, the clown gets to laugh at New Year's Eve debauchery (don't miss that image - truly powerful), and promiscuity is rewarded.
So it's a 7 because it is too short at 1 hour and too many characters are left hanging, especially the Raymond father/son/daughter-in-law triangle, which really needs a 5-minute wrap-up scene where their eternal misery is nailed. But watch it and see if you too don't find yourself satisfied with the meatiness of the story.
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