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At a party for Bright Young Things, a "treasure hunt" for attractive yet virtuous people nets Sir Christopher Strong, M.P., and Lady Cynthia Darrington, dashing aviatrix. Their acquaintance is innocent at first; but after he sees her in a spectacular silver moth costume, virtue begins to wane. Against their wills, they are drawn into an affair whose consequences threaten Strong's happy marriage and both their careers. Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This early Katherine Hepburn picture about a daring woman pilot united the most liberated, confident and assertive female in film history, Hepburn herself, with the early sound era's most tragic female victim, Helen Chandler. Chandler was a gifted actress who gained film immortality as the exquisite blonde Mina in Dracula, only to fall victim to bad parts, bad choices, and a casual drinking habit that cost her roles and swiftly became compulsive and fatal alcoholism.
Haunting and heart-wrenching in the extreme, the film almost unintentionally sets up the brave Lady Cynthia (Hepburn) in direct contrast to the embittered, tormented and weak-willed Monica (Chandler.) Hepburn is the daring lady pilot enjoying a wicked affair with strong, solid Sir Christopher Strong, while Chandler is Strong's weak daughter, the jealous and resentful Monica.
"Of course I do whatever I choose," Hepburn announces, striding into the drawing room in her daring and very masculine attire. "What woman doesn't?" The only woman wearing pants in this movie, Hepburn hardly seems to notice that other women lack her strength. Only a few feet away we see a lovely blonde on the sofa, her eyes blazing and her hands shaking as she gulps down a drink in helpless defiance. Helen Chandler hardly needed to act as she portrays a woman whose guts have been torn out already, but her smallest gestures are still remarkable. Taking the first drink, waiting for the effect, shuddering with relief. The constant fidgeting, the inability to look anyone in the eye. The twitching of her hand when trying to wave off questions about her drinking.
As the film unfolds, Monica is supposed to be spoiled and disdainful, but Helen Chandler willingly or not somehow puts across an almost pitiable quality of spineless dependency. Monica lives in terror that her father will discover her drinking, yet hates the laughing, confident and healthy woman who has engaged his interest. Trapped in her own life of appearances and lies, her weak, sweet-faced mother can do nothing but look on worriedly as angry Monica stews on the sofa, either puffing greedily on a cigarette or gulping another drink.
In the big "party" scene, Hepburn is is calm and triumphant, while Chandler's Helen is just the opposite -- her laughter too loud, her movements too frantic, her wild gestures almost a savage parody of youthful enjoyment. It's like there's a fiend inside her, a demon who has taken the soul and left only a fragile and hopeless shell.
The demon was alcohol, and by the time this movie was made Helen Chandler was only a shell of her former self.
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