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Smarty (1934)
2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Smarty - unguarded look at sadistic male fantasies, 13 April 2011

Intended as titillation but ending as a shocking and sick attempt to cater to male fantasies of female submission, this movie is worth watching for a few good reasons besides the ultimate failure of the theme to amuse. Claire Dodd as the knowing, mocking friend who collaborates in Blondell's teases. Many sharp little lines that set the stage for excruciating jealousy, a theme most often clumsily handled in film. Joan Blondell, who is too lovable for her part.

The cuckold scenario common to many drawing room comedies of this period is made unusually explicit by an actual divorce and remarriage, which leaves us disconcertingly free of all doubt as to the consummation of sexual relations. Blondell's character, a woman intended to be the paragon of teasing sexuality, is never fully understood by anyone involved, which is good, because it would have led to even graver extremes of predatory female sexuality. She tries to play her character lightly, with a teasing innocence, and they ignore the sharp edge of the tease that tears the heart of the male lead apart.

By the time Blondell dons the ultra-revealing dress that is constantly on the verge of exposing her famous breasts, the film stumbles through scene after scene of impotent male rage conflated with lust as Blondell fights to expose herself in the outfit. Only Proust himself could do justice to the heady combination of jealousy, exhibitionism, and lust she leads her ex-husband through, all while married to her new husband.

While the complexity and taboo nature in this weave of female exploitation with male jealousy are beyond most Hollywood movies of any time, the movie settles for a violent end and a shocking submission that is entirely the creation of male fantasy and a woman's compliance with it. Many women, unable to see this from the perspective of male lust, will simply be confounded by it. Most men will be repulsed by the unadorned openness of it, and will be tempted to blame the woman for complying with male fantasy.

If this film were remade today the title would be changed to the more appropriate "Slutty." It is an unusually unguarded look at the contradictory nature of the male invention of the fantasy of the slut.

5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Unexpected and Fresh, 4 February 2011

Star-studded cast with three complete story lines make this tiny gem a fast-paced and absorbing flick. Bennett commands all her scenes with her trademarked regal assurance, Young does her gushing little girl routine, with one quick quip about being independent of men at the beginning, almost as if there was a coded assumption that she was a feminist at heart who had to be proved wrong by the overwhelming righteousness of patriarchal adherence to the masculine preferences inherent in the typical happy ending. Gaynor does her variation on Young's innocent routine, only mixing in the eager submissiveness of the thoroughly indoctrinated practitioner of standard femininity.

The stories are set in Budapest, harnessed together by one of old Hollywood's most beloved artifices, the "three girls rooming together in poverty searching for husbands" plot. We are instantly thrown into the three romantic story lines, with the astonishing economy of old Hollywood that I fervently wish were still practiced today.

Bennett is engaged in a open, sensible affair with Paul Lukas, and is showily worldly and cynical, while using subtle cues to clue us into the real state of her heart. Young has a storybook romance going with a young nobleman, played by the preternaturally handsome Power, who could have used a bit more screen time, or so many of us might wish. Gaynor is in love with a irascible, jealous control freak doctor, Ameche, but is discharged by him when she starts to work for the pompous, self-centered Alan Mowbray, who is a conceited magician and who does a wonderful character turn in the typically delightful Mowbray style, which is to say, as gay as pink ink on scented paper.

I expected absolute fidelity to the standard Hollywood tropes and was pleasantly surprised to find the ending quite mixed. Young and Bennett reprise Young's comments about independence after being properly chastened by the absolute freedom enjoyed by the men in their lives, and Lukas is boldly tempted away from Bennett's side by Simon, playing a French schoolgirl who steals every scene she is in with her precocious grasp of the values of sexual audacity. There is a priceless moment, after she gets him to kiss her, a lingering kiss fraught with expectation and lacking in any visible restraint, where she looks at him in delight and barks a little laugh of knowing disdain and triumphant glee. Excellently put together and directed with great timing and sensitive performances, this film greatly exceeded my modest expectations.