One of over 700 Paramount Productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by Universal ever since. See more »
Gotham Glamor Girl goes for the gold ...and becomes a "Tarnished Lady"
The legendary Tallulah Bankhead had made a few silent films in the late teens but it was on the London stage where she really wowed audiences. The charismatic charmer had a genuine cult following among young females with her modern and racy characterizations. British girls screamed and swooned for her in much the same way they would for The Beatles four decades later. In Hollywood, Paramount Pictures thought she could do the same for American audiences on screen and signed Tallulah to a four picture contract. "TARNISHED LADY" was the first and was filmed at "Paramount East" in Astoria, NY. It was also the first film for director George Cukor and the first screenplay by humorist (and later HUAC blacklist victim) Donald Ogden Stewart, based on his short story "New York Lady".
"TARNISHED LADY" -The Story Of a New York Lady" covers the same territory Joan Crawford was monopolizing at MGM. Geared to shop-girls and strap-hangers, it related the romantic ups and downs of a Manhattan society girl who's wealthy in spirit and illustrious name ...but not in bank account. The story seems "ripped from the day's magazines" and it actually plays out as one. The opening credits come in the form of a chic Art Deco magazine called "Vanity-Bizarre" and the film opens with Nancy Courtney (Tallulah Bankhead) posing for a cigarette ad for the magazine. Being a Courtney, one of the oldest families in NY, doesn't put food on the table, and to please her "high maintenance" mother (a fluttery Elizabeth Patterson) she agrees to marry self-made millionaire Norman Cravath (cold-fish Clive Brook). This doesn't sit too well with her true love, struggling young writer DeWitt Taylor (handsome Alexander Kirkland) or débutante Germaine Prentiss (a beautifully brittle Phoebe Foster) who Norman threw over for Nancy. Just before her wedding, Nancy spends the night with DeWitt to explain why she can never see him again. Six months later he's put in her path thanks to the machinations of Germaine and from here on, the plot plays out as upper-crust soap-opera. In what has to be one of the worst days in Norman's life, Nancy tells him she's leaving him for DeWitt. What Nancy doesn't know is that moments before Norman was wiped out on the Stock Market. When she goes to DeWitt she's devastated to find him in the arms of Germaine. She realizes she actually loves Norman in a Second Avenue speakeasy while warbling a song as a few brutes and thugs paw at her. Pride refuses to let her return to Norman and she nearly starves on the streets before a family friend, Ben Sterner (Osgood Perkins) comes to her rescue and gives her a job in his department store. Not a moment too soon as she's about to have a baby. Can she win back "stiff upper lip" Norman before he marries Germaine? How does it all pan out? In much the same way Crawford's films over at MGM and Constance Bennett's at RKO did.
There's enough "pre-code" fun in TARNISHED LADY to keep modern-day audiences happy along with loads of Art Deco. "Nancy's" trials and tribulations take place on penthouse terraces, in large department stores, on city streets, Long Island beaches and even in a speakeasy or two. Tallulah Bankhead smokes a lot, drinks a little,wears cloche hats, furs, jewels and is gorgeously gowned throughout. Loose morals among monied young moderns is a given in Manhattan and whenever a character is questioned about their wrong choices in life, they often reply with "This is New York, so what?" Meant to be "cutting edge chic",the film misfired with audiences at the time but contrary to myth (most started by Tallulah herself) the public was intrigued by Bankhead. But, alas, like Samuel Goldwyn's Anna Sten, Tallulah Bankhead's problem was publicity "overkill" and "ballyhoo" that no one could possibly live up to. Newspapers and magazines trumpeted: "This girl will SHOCK you! Her personality registers like a THIRD RAIL!" When the film premiered in New York, lobbies were rigged with pull-cords that gave audiences a mild electric shock. Posters screamed: "The producers who brought you DIETRICH bring you another WOMAN-THRILL! BANKHEAD! She enthralled a nation! England's adored beauty on the screen! Get within range of her radiance! Feel the rapturous thrill of her voice, her person!" In fan magazines, Bankhead was interviewed in connection with the film: "Men are as pleasant to me as the lavish gowns I adore! I drink the sparkling cup of LOVE, for I know my heart will never betray me! I am Tallulah the MODERN!" Whew! Even if only a campy curio now, what's not to like about this "TARNISHED LADY"? "Tarnished" trivia: Smolderingly sensual "Blues" singer Libby Holman coached Bankhead for the snippets of songs "Nancy" sings.
Beautiful Russian ballerina/actress Tamara Geva (wife of George Balanchine) tested for the role of "Germaine" and Bankhead took an instant dislike to the lady upon first meeting. "Talloo" may have been psychic because eight years later her husband, John Emery, fell hard for Tamara and married her as soon as his divorce from Bankhead was final.
Tallulah felt her co-star, Clive Brook, possessed all the acting qualities of "a lump of wood".
Osgood Perkins is Anthony Perkins' dad.
Alexander Kirkland was briefly married to stripper Gypsy Rose Lee during the early 40's but the father of their child was actually director Otto Preminger.
Look quickly for comedian Eric Blore in an uncredited bit as a jewelry store clerk.
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