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Alfred E. Green
Douglas Fairbanks Jr.,
This movie opens in 1905, when showgirl and daughter of a deceased gambler Peggy Martin falls in love with Monte Van Tyle and breaks the news to lover Fiske that she is leaving him. She and Monte marry and move into the title house, where Peggy says she "wants to live forever." They live an idyllic life for several years, have baby Eleanor, and life is beautiful. Then Fiske comes back and tells Peggy he is dying and wants her to be with him. She refuses, he gets desperate and tries to shoot himself, they struggle and he is shot dead. Peggy is convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 20 years. She tells the faithful Monte to someday tell Eleanor she died in jail. Time passes, Monte dies in WWI, Peggy is finally released. Her mother-in-law left her $5,000 in her will, so Peggy gets a makeover and goes on a cruise, where she meets Bill Blaine, a crooked gambler. They team up and make scads of money all over the world cheating suckers. They end up in New York and take jobs at a ...Written by
The House On 56th Street is a Stella Dallas like melodramatic soap opera that Kay Francis did for Warner Brothers before Bette Davis made a specialty of them for that studio. This pre-Code film is laced with irony for Kay.
Kay's a Floradora girl from the Ragtime Era who has all the men chasing her in 1905. She's the kept woman of ragtime rake John Halliday, but young Gene Raymond sweeps her off her feet and they marry and have a daughter. He takes her back to the family digs on East 56th Street in New York City and fancy digs they are.
Halliday gets some bad news from his doctor that he's only got months to live and he wants to live them with Francis, whatever the scandal. Francis tries to prevent him from committing suicide, but when Halliday does in the struggle for the pistol, she goes up for manslaughter and gets 20 years.
Fast forward to the Roaring Twenties and Kay's now free and living anonymously and making a living as a gambling lady with Ricardo Cortez and William 'Stage' Boyd. She gets an opportunity however to impart one really big favor on grownup daughter Margaret Lindsay and it's a beaut.
Although Bette Davis would later do these kind of parts, I mention Stella Dallas because The House On 56th Street also involves a mother separating herself from her daughter for her own good. Francis's role which she does a fine job with seems to fit Barbara Stanwyck even better.
Favorite scene here is the gambling scene on board a ship where Francis takes Cortez to the cleaners even though he's cheating. It reminded me a lot of the climax in Rounders with Matt Damon and John Malkovich.
Though The House On 56th Street is dated, it's still an effective film. Note the sense of irony in Francis's final line in the film.
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