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MGM in trying to expand Joan Crawford's repertoire into period costume
pieces spared no expense and gave her one all star cast in this drama
about the Peggy O'Neal Eaton affair. The basic facts are true, Peggy
O'Neal, daughter of a Washington, DC tavern-keeper and widow of a young
Navy Lieutenant, marries the Senator from Tennessee who then is chosen
Secretary of War in President Andrew Jackson's original cabinet. The
Cabinet wives however refuse to receive Peggy socially as does the wife
of the Vice President John C. Calhoun. Jackson blows his cabinet up,
requests resignations from all involved and Eaton and Peg are sent in
exile so to speak as he is made Minister to Spain.
The real story is far more complex than that. Jackson did regard Peggy as a slandered woman, much like his late wife Rachel was. Rachel Donelson Robards Jackson dies between the election and inauguration of Jackson. Beulah Bondi plays her in the movie and it's the best performance in the film. In real life this whole affair was being maneuvered behind the scenes by John Calhoun and Secretary of State Martin Van Buren taking anti and pro Peggy positions respectively. Van Buren's character is barely mentioned here. Played by Charles Trowbridge, he's given one or two lines in the film.
Robert Taylor strikes the right note as the young Naval Lieutenant Bow Timberlake. After Timberlake and Peggy are married, he is ordered to sea and dies there. The manner of his death has never been satisfactorily explained. It's also not explained here and that leaves the audiences up in the air.
Franchot Tone plays John Eaton and I think a lot of his performance is left on the cutting room floor. In real life there is some question as to whether Eaton and Peggy were involved while she was married to Timberlake.
But the most fantastic error in this plot is John Randolph's interest in Peggy. The real John Randolph was impotent, his testicles never descended, he never reached puberty. He never had any romantic attachments with anyone, he wasn't capable of it. In real life John Randolph because he never reached puberty had this girlishly high-pitched voice when he spoke on the floor of Congress. No one ever dared make fun of him though as he was a crack shot with a dueling pistol. Melvyn Douglas played a character with no basis in reality.
One of the other things I found a bit much was Douglas's constant prattle about state's rights. To him this a nice philosophy to be debated on the floor of Congress. Louis Calhern's character who is admittedly like a previous reviewer describes him as a Snidely Whiplash villain, is ready for secession. He goes to Randolph and says that he's organized a movement and he wants Randolph to lead it. The real Randolph would have been hot to trot for that. Melvyn Douglas reacts in horror however, he threatens to expose Calhern's villainy. Calhern has to shoot him. But if you think about it, the only thing Calhern did was take that state's right talk of Douglas to its logical conclusion and translate it into action.
The real John Randolph was never assassinated, he died of natural causes and had no major role in the Peggy O'Neal affair at all.
Maybe some day someone will make a better film of this incident.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A star vehicle for Joan Crawford, who plays Margaret O'Neal, daughter
of an inn-keeper, adoptive niece of Andrew Jackson (Lionel Barrymore),
hopelessly in love with Virginia Senator John Randolph (Melvyn
Douglas), married first to the dashing naval lieutenant Timberlake
(Robert Taylor), and then after turning down Randolph because he's
intent on breaking up the Union, to steadfast John Eaton (Franchot
Tone). The cast is made more lively by the presence of Beaulah Bondi as
the pipe-smoking backwoods Rachel Jackson, by Sidney Toler as Daniel
Webster ready to orate at the drop of a hat, by Alison Skipworth as the
gossiping Mrs. Beall, and the gosh-shucks comic interludes of a very
young James Stewart as Rowdy Dow. This is a sentimental melodramatic
revision of history, with historical figures gravitating or (perhaps)
orbiting about a beautiful, headstrong, smart young woman. But though
she's smart and loyal, possessing all the same political convictions of
most of the male characters, the only real scope she has is to marry,
or not to marry, somebody whose politics she agrees with. And then the
worst she has to endureother than the heartbreak of not being able to
marry Randolph because he's an incipient secessionistis the petty
nastiness of stuck-up Washingtonians who despise her because of her
humble origins (she's "Pothouse Peg" to them) and because of what they
imagine is scandalous behaviourespecially visiting Randolph's deathbed
after he's assassinated by a really vile, sneaky rebel. Jackson
intervenes, dismissing his entire cabinet, and Margaret sails with her
husband for Spain.
Somehow, I have reservations about Crawford hereand not just the part written for her. True, she is very good-looking indeed, but she doesn't seem to inhabit the part as much as she moves and holds still for the camera, and employs the appropriate facial expressions, the big sad eyes, the sparky impish look, the indignant glare, the soft yielding gaze, the angry flounce. She's overdressed (by Adrian) for the part, and so is her accent. If the dialogue didn't mention it from time to time it would be hard to remember she's not supposed to be a "lady." Her carriage reflects this problem, too, until it seems that everybody else in the cast is acting while she is delivering Joan Crawford content.
And now the other problem with this movieAndrew Jackson. Lionel Barrymore does a great job making him a crusty but kind-hearted and principled backwoods original, with his colourful curses and idioms, with his corn-whiskey voice and with his bushy white eyebrows. But this is a sentimentalized Jackson, retooled in a process of romantic primitivization: he is made up of equal parts of federalist principles, loyalty to his hayseed origins and his beloved hillbilly wife, avuncular kindness to Margaret, and huffing-and-puffing temper. He is made out to be a proto-Lincoln,determined to Save the Union. I suppose he might have been, but I am so angry with the real Jackson about manifest destinythe banishment of Indians from the east and the Trail of Tearsthat I find this soppy idolatry rather creepy.
No! No! No! What is that most modern, at least to her time, of
actresses Joan Crawford doing in hoop skirts and crinoline? Pretty much
making a fool of herself, not that it's her fault MGM should have known
better. There is not one look or gesture that she makes that has a
feeling of any period but the 20th century.
Both stagnant and silly this completely miscast picture takes an interesting and scandalous piece of American history, The Petticoat Affair, and make it seem asinine and trivial when it practically tore Jackson's presidency apart and did lead to most of his cabinet's resignation.
Proof positive that not every film that came out of Hollywood's golden age and its premiere studio was a classic worth seeing filled with top flight talent or not. Even if you are a completist of any of the stars work this will be a struggle to get through.
Fanciful, but silly biography of Peggy Eaton (Crawford), a controversial figure during the Andrew Jackson administration in the late 1820s, and her relationships with influential men of that era. Semi-fiction story is "gorgeous" to look at thanks to elegant period settings and costumes, not so much the performances or script.
THE GORGEOUS HUSSY, based on a 1934 historical novel by Samuel Hopkins Adams, is another one of those genteel forays into the past from squeaky clean MGM. The only compelling ingredients in this overlong saga about the controversial hussy Peggy Eaton who wielded much influence over President Andrew Jackson are a few of the performances and the novelty of actual political debates occurring in the context of a love affair; Hollywood seldom mixed those two elements. The first half hour is bone dead, with familiar performers strutting around in period costumes and delivering the necessary exposition. Joan Crawford is not particularly persuasive as a young tavern keeper's daughter. She looks somewhat haggard and hard, but still beautiful. Things liven up with the appearance of Andrew Jackson (Lionel Barrymore) and his unpopular and maligned wife Rachel (Beulah Bondi). Barrymore may have been a ham who gave basically the same performance in film after film, but at least he puts some juice into the proceedings, making the most he can of the extremely diluted representation of Jackson supplied by the script. Bondi is touching in her depiction of the ill-fated Rachel, the love of Jackson's life. Until then we have had to endure endless moments with a dashing but wooden Melvyn Douglas and a competent but unexciting contribution from neophyte Robert Taylor. Jimmy Stewart and later Franchot Tone are on hand too but only in a few scenes and to little effect. And we have the always nasty and conniving Alison Skipworth as a disapproving society matron to hold our attention. And the marvelous Zeffie Tilbury as Skipworth's deaf mother who disagrees strongly with her snobbish daughter's malicious gossip. Between these bits there are occasionally interesting sketches of the political contentions of the time, mostly about how much power should be granted to the individual states, foreshadowing the Civil War. But we never get a sense of what an extraordinary woman the title character was. Nothing in Joan Crawford's performance or in the material given her indicates that this is anything other than an unusually attractive and well behaved lady with romantic yearnings but someone for whose honor and reputation a President would dissolve his cabinet and change the course of US history? No way. You cannot make a polite film about these characters in this historical period, but this is what MGM tried to do.
Joan Crawford stars in The Gorgeous Hussy, often referred to as her
only historical drama. This is a myth. During her silent years,
Crawford was the star of other historical films (Across to Singapore,
Rose Marie) and westerns. She also went on to star in Johnny Guitar in
1954, set at the turn of the century, which became one of her most
famous films. When reviewers say Crawford was too modern for historical
pictures, they conveniently forget the terrific reviews she received
for Rose Marie in 1928, now a lost film, and her electric presence in
The Gorgeous Hussy is not a popular film. Many writers claim that Hussy was a disastrous box-office flop, which is not true. It actually made back all of its huge production cost (Hussy was an MGM prestige picture) and turned in a small profit. A lot of people went to see Gorgeous Hussy in its day--more people than saw other films referred to as hits, such as No More Ladies, and yet the high production did not allow it to make a significant enough profit to be considered a hit.
Joan Crawford shines in this movie, despite what many of her detractors have said about her. I have read many articles about how she was not right in this role and that she was much better in contemporary films and not period dramas, such as this. But I will tell you that they are wrong. This is one very entertaining film and it holds your interest from beginning to end. Everything about this film is breathtaking, the sets, the costumes, the acting (not only from the leads, but also the minors), and even the make-up is very good. Just take a look at Charles Trowbridge and his likeness of Martin Van Buren--amazing!! This film has it all and this film puts another jewel in the Crawford crown of great acting!!
"The Gorgeous Hussy" impressed me at once as a rather trite, artificial
history-based (I won't actually call it historical) film about the
Eaton Affair scandal of Andrew Jackson's presidency. It's an odd
subject somewhat to choose as the basis for a romance-filled drama, and
the script doesn't do it a whole lot of justice at times. A lot of the
dialogue is just difficult to swallow or sickly-sweet, and American
history is treated with a kind of overly orthodox distorting reverence
-- turning the scandal into a stage for Andrew Jackson to be held up as
an early defender of the Union in a proto-iteration of the Civil War --
There are good points too however: Lionel Barrymore creates a wonderfully memorable performance as the raucous and rough yet wise President Jackson. He makes the former president human even while the script presents him somewhat two-dimensionally as a kind of grumpy but lovable old uncle most of the time (with a few nice scenes where he gets to be principled and statesmanlike in the face of his congress). Joan Crawford seeps magnetism and sympathy as Margaret, even as we are not really allowed to see the struggles between men that make up much of the movie emotionally dramatized for her. These actors get to play a few nice dramatic scenes amid the posturing, including a very effective one after President Jackson's wife's death.
Unfortunately, the piety with which "The Gorgeous Hussy" treats American history extends to other elements of its subject matter. We are supposed to sympathize with Margaret about the viscous rumors that are spread about her, but we never really learn what the rumors are or why they are spread. In other words, in this Hays-code influenced feature, we see how the titular gorgeous hussy is gorgeous, but never really how she is a hussy.
There are a few fine performances here, and the film is quite watchable, but it is let down by an overly careful, pious, and reverent production in many respects.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie is a disgrace to history and period pieces of the 30's. The
true story of Peggy Eaton was so much better and I have no idea why
they didn't follow the storyline the way it played out in real life.
Peggy Eaton was a flirt and married while she was having an affair with
Sec. of Agriculture John Eaton. It didn't make any sense in this movie
to have Joan Crawford's character not be turned on by Francot Tone, who
she was married to in real life. Instead she was attracted to John
Randolph, who was a Senator and this part was fictional for no reason.
Why not have her fall in love with her future husband? Her husband, at
the time, did die at sea and it was rumored that he committed suicide
because Peggy was having an affair with John Eaton, who she married a
month later. That would have been a real drama. Then, when she went
calling on the Washington Ladies, they snubbed her and called her a
"hussy." Andrew Jackson was so mad, he fired his whole cabinet, like in
the movie. This movie didn't make any sense and to call it "Gorgeous
Hussy" made people think they were going to get a good soap opera,
which they could have if they would have written a script that stuck to
the story. I can just see a good scene with Peggy calling on the ladies
only to kept waiting in a hallway and head held high as she had to
leave in shame. Joan Crawford can't act. Vivien Leigh, she is not. She
spends every scene trying to look radiant and only looks like a deer in
Andrew Jackson was not Jed Clampett, as he is portrayed here. For God's sake, he was a lawyer, Senator and General at the time of his inauguration. He would not have been brawling at his inauguration party and he didn't say "ain't". Rachel was not Granny Clampet either. She was from a wealthy family in Tennessee and did smoke a pipe, but then a lot of independent minded women smoked. I was just appalled at the portrayal of these characters. No plot was developed and the political issues of nullification, states rights, Bank of America and Peggy Eaton as the 'hussy' were not developed and if the viewer doesn't know history, this whole movie would be perplexing to say the least. As the last scene fades, when the "heroine" who doesn't love her "hero" sails off to Spain, we are left feeling cheated of history. This movie is only good to see the beautiful sets and costumes of the time. I don't even understand why Beulah Bondi, who was great as Rachel was nominated for an Academy Award for her 3 or 4 scenes. There must have been other actresses who had more complex roles that year. Joan Crawford was just awful and Lionel Barrymore should have done a little more study on Andrew Jackson, who was a strong and noble gentleman, not a country bumpkin.
I only rate this movie as high as I did for the costumes and set design. Don't take any of the history seriously. They shamelessly bungled this movie.
When girlish innkeeper's daughter Joan Crawford (as Margaret "Peggy"
O'Neal) develops into a beautiful young woman, many men in 1823
Washington, DC desire her. Ms. Crawford finds sailor Robert Taylor (as
"Bow" Timberlake) attractive, but Crawford is saving herself for
Virginia Senator Melvyn Douglas (as John Randolph). Meanwhile, boyish
Jimmy Stewart (as "Rowdy" Dow) pastes fake sideburns on his cheeks, and
pines for Crawford. She brushes off Mr. Stewart, and gets kissed by Mr.
Taylor. Though she still loves Mr. Douglas, Crawford marries Taylor
after a fight with Douglas, who thinks Crawford is too young for
Shortly after the wedding, Lieutenant Taylor is called away for three months, to the West Indies.
Crawford waits in Washington with an older couple who consider her a companion and ward, politically savvy Lionel Barrymore (as Andrew "Andy" Jackson) and his pipe-smoking wife Beulah Bondi (as Rachel). After five years, Mr. Barrymore becomes the seventh President of the United States. Though a woman, Crawford is a political adviser of sorts, which encumbers gossip. Crawford's real-life husband, Franchot Tone (as John H. Eaton), also enters the picture. With strong direction by Clarence Brown and photography by George Folsey, MGM production values manage to sustain the years. Otherwise, this historical fiction succeeds as neither.
***** The Gorgeous Hussy (8/28/36) Clarence Brown ~ Joan Crawford, Lionel Barrymore, Melvyn Douglas, Robert Taylor
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