Becky Sharp (1935) Poster


User Reviews

Review this title
29 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
Glorious Technicolor Restored
wrk653910 September 2001
BECKY SHARP, historically important as the first feature film in full, three-color TECHNICOLOR, has always fascinated me. It's history, however, is frustrating and disappointing. Made by Pioneer Pictures and released through RKO, BECKY SHARP was sold to a poverty row exhibitor (whose name escapes me at the moment)in the 1940's for re-release. The company chose not to pay the high prices that TECHNICOLOR charged for release prints and had new prints of the film struck in inferior two strip CINECOLOR. More damaging to the future of BECKY was that the company never properly stored the original nitrate negatives. BECKY SHARP was sold to TV only in a shortened B&W print or in CINECOLOR reissue prints.

Still, the idea of this elusive "lost" treasure haunted me. It was amongst the very first videocassettes that I ever purchased back in the early days of the VCR when I was but a lad (and YES, I got strange looks.) BECKY SHARP was one of those poor, orphaned films whose copyrights have expired and now live in the public domain. The quality of the video cassette and the color was astonishingly bad, and gave no hint of the pleasures the original TECHNICOLOR photography must have contained.

A sad story to be sure, but fortunately UCLA performed a massive restoration effort on the film in the late 1980's, literally scouring the world for available film elements. Unfortunately, the restored BECKY SHARP has never been commercially released in any format. It was shown during AMC's first Film Preservation Festival back in 1993, however, and luckily I recorded it to cherish for all time (or at least until the tape wears out.) It has never aired since.

The restored BECKY SHARP is a revelation!! The film starts with barely any color at all, then pleasant pastels are introduced, followed eventually by the striking red coats of the British military. Full of color and deliciously over-ripe tints, this was primarily an experiment to see how color plays out in a feature film. The cast and drama takes a back-seat to the real star of the show, glorious TECHNICOLOR. The film itself is somewhat plodding and overplayed, but a lot of fun, to be sure!!

I'm not sure what legal red tape is responsible for there being no commercial release of this beautiful restoration, but none has appeared and this is a shame.
30 out of 32 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Great Victorian Novel becomes Interesting Looking But Weak Film
theowinthrop25 October 2005
Because of the overwhelming success of his novels, people still read Charles Dickens. If you poled people who like to read classic novels, you would find most people read Dickens, Emily and Charlotte Bronte, and Anthony Trollope most among the "high Victorian" novelists (those from 1830 - 1882). This cuts out a large number of fine novelists, like George Eliot, George Meredith, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Benjamin Disraeli (yes, the Prime Minister), or even William Wilkie Collins, the first great mystery/detective novelist. But the one that is particularly odd is William Makepeace Thackeray.

In his day (he was a prominent novelist from 1839 to 1863 when he died) Thackeray was actually the leading rival of Dickens as the leading novelist. Dickens was capable of a wider variety of social class types in his fiction, and could show wilder humor and greater tragedy in his novels. But Thackeray was more gifted at subtle characterization and clever social satire of the upper class. He was a member of that class, and knew what he was talking about when he wrote about them. George Orwell noted that when Dickens did an aristocrat in like Sir Mulberry Hawk in "Nicholas Nickleby", the resulting character was a type from Victorian melodrama, whereas Thackeray or Trollope made more realistic figures.

He also was willing to experiment in odd ways. Occasionally Dickens did too - he did first person narrative novels like "David Copperfield" and once did one with a female narrator "Bleak House". But in 1846 Thackeray wrote "Vanity Fair, A Novel Without A Hero". The title was a pun. The two leading characters, Rebecca (Becky) Sharp and Amelia Sedley, are women (so it suggests the novel has a "heroine"). But both women are quite faulty. Becky is a fortune hunter who won't let anyone or anything keep her from becoming rich. Amelia is a nice person. In fact, she is too nice. She has to go through an 800 page story before she stops being friendly to her school friend Becky, and only after Becky reveals what a bad person she has been to Amelia.

None of the characters in "Vanity Fair" is flawless. The closest to a hero in the story, William Dobbin, adores Amelia - but won't push himself as a suitor (he wants her to notice his adoration by herself). Becky vamps members of the Crawley family (where she is the family governess), and marries the second son, Rawdon, in expectation of a generous aunt's largesse to support them. But that fails to work out. So she tags along with Rawdon, accompanying him on the Waterloo campaign, and makes a play for George Osbourne (Amelia's selfish husband). Eventually she and Rawdon become social figures, "living well on nothing a year" (by cheating merchants of payments for their food, clothes, etc). She also becomes the mistress of the powerful Marquis of Steyne (pronounced "stain").

How the events of this novel without a hero end I leave to the reader to read the novel (the best way) or to see either this version by Rouben Mamoulian, the recent one with Reese Witherspoon, or a modern dress version from 1932 with Myrna Loy as Becky. Mamoulian's version reduces the story to 90 minutes of film, and so much is thrown out. In particular the antics of Amelia's cowardly, pompous brother Joseph Sedley (Nigel Bruce in Mamoulian's film). Hopkins does very well as Becky - garnering her best film performance. She is supported by Alan Mowbray as Rawdon, who may be raffish in some ways but gains our respect as he sees the woman he loves for what she is. Francis Dee is adequate (if not memorable) as Amelia. Cedric Hardwicke is sinister and powerful as Steyne. Allison Skipworth gives one a taste of the self-centered, pampered aunt of Rawdon, "Miss Crawley".

So what went right and wrong. It is a great novel (my opinion) but I admit this film leaves me cold. So much was cut out the film is just a synopsis of the main plot. But then, Thackeray's greatest strength as a satirist was as a subtle writer. Somehow subtlety on his printed page is not well translated onto the silver screen. On the other hand, Mamoulian did make great strides (in terms of elegant cinematography) with the then new three tone color film system. The best moment is at the scene of the great last ball given to Wellington's staff and men at Brussels in June 1815, which ends as a cannon blast in the distance is heard: the opening shot of Waterloo. The moment that the blast is heard a blast of air causes a red curtain to blow, looking like a wave of blood. Mamoulian was able to squeeze out of the process some idea of what to do with it. For that reason the film is worth seeing. But I urge the interested viewer to take the time to read Thackeray's novel.
16 out of 17 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
"Words are but little thanks"
Steffi_P26 October 2009
You see, it's not so much the stories that count, it's the way they're told. Becky Sharp, the motion picture, came to be by a convoluted route. William Makepeace Thackeray's mid-19th century novel Vanity Fair was used as the basis for Langdon Mitchell's late 19th century stage play, which was in turn adapted for this 1935 movie. What have we lost and what have we gained?

Of course, books, plays and pictures are very different things, and certain changes have had to be made so that each adaptation works for its particular medium. Becky Sharp bears all the hallmarks of a lengthy novel reworked for the stage. A play can't be over a certain length because it has to be seen in a whole evening, and yet individual scenes tend to be fairly long because of the disruption of having to change sets. Becky Sharp, perhaps surprisingly, changes very little of the basic plot, but it condenses the entire (900+ page) tome into a series of dramatic vignettes. Because the novel tends to tell of many important events in a by-the-by fashion, Mitchell was also forced to come up with a lot of his own dialogue. Finally, the play differs from the novel in that every episode is told from Becky's point-of-view, whereas Thackeray's narrative travels with a range of characters.

So far, so disappointing (perhaps). But what was most important here was not that the story survived intact, but that the tone of Thackeray's masterpiece carried through. What is so special about Vanity Fair is the author's cynical, sarcastic tone, which makes a comedy out of these unpleasant goings-on. This is not an easy task in a motion picture, unless you were to resort to voice-over narration with passages from the novel (not especially en vogue in the 30s). But as it happens this motion picture does not do a bad job.

Firstly, we have the right cast. Miriam Hopkins's Oscar nomination has raised a few eyebrows here and there, and it's true her performance is hysterically hammy. But that is Becky Sharp, a cheat and a liar whose entire life was an act. When she breaks down in false tears over her late mother's possessions, the moment seems silly, but it is supposed to be funny. The bulk of the cast are overblown caricatures, but again this is faithful to the novel. Thackeray wasn't subtle. Look at those names – Pitt Crawley, Lord Steyne… even a minor character who didn't make it to this version called Sir Huddleston-Fuddleston. And most of the players are spot-on. Nigel Bruce simply is Jos Sedley, and George Hassell is perfect in his unfortunately brief appearance as Sir Pitt.

Then there is Rouben Mamoulian's direction. His flamboyant visual style could be disastrous in the wrong picture, but here all his extroverted camera moves and trick shots pay off. With the condensed storyline, the overt technique helps to keep the flow. We are brought closer to the spirit of the original text by the fact that we are constantly aware of the director's touch, just as Thackeray constantly addresses his reader with a sly wink. This again highlights the fact that Becky Sharp is more enjoyable if it is taken as a comedy, not as a drama. It's just as well – Mamoulian let loose on a pure drama could be awful.

This was famously the first picture in three-strip Technicolor, and as the use of colour here is especially good I'll devote a few lines to that too. Whereas some early colour pictures used blaring shades, Becky Sharp is filled with subtler tones – for example those rusty browns and greyish blues in the opening scene, much more effective than bold blue and red. And rather than simply colour-coding a character's costume or a set, we here see the tones flowing on and off the screen. To again take that opening scene, we begin with the warmer hues of Amelia and her friends, and then slowly move, via various different shades of dress and the growing amount of the stark wall that can be seen, to the cold blue-grey of Becky. Later in the first scene at the Crawley residence, all the colours are very plain, which gives more impact when Rawdon walks in in his bright red uniform. It's hard to say who is responsible for this smart handling of colour. Production designer Robert Edmond Jones is the celebrated inventor of "simplified realism", whereby sets complement action, but Mamoulian appears to have done a very similar job with the colour on the 1941's Blood and Sand. We'll assume it was a joint effort.

Really, the only major flaw in Becky Sharp (and it is, I'm sorry to say, a very major one), is that the paring down of the narrative to 84 minutes without actually cutting much of the plot makes for somewhat confusing viewing. It's difficult to keep up with time and place, and the novel's legion of characters pop up then disappear before they have made an impression. Personally, I found Becky Sharp fun to watch because I am familiar with the novel and it was nice to see these figures brought to life so accurately. However, I first saw it before I read the book, and recall finding it bizarre and boring, as I suppose would the majority of viewers. For this reason, it fails in itself as a motion picture.
9 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Color Classic
Ron Oliver26 September 2003
Pretty BECKY SHARP, orphaned & penniless, knows exactly what she wants out of life and how to get it.

William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair is brought to vivid, if drastically reduced, life and provides a wonderful showcase for star Miriam Hopkins, who gets the most out of her selfish, petulant, scheming, desperate character. Her Becky is fascinating to watch and dominates nearly every scene in the film, making us forget that the actress is not English and forgive that the character is rather less than virtuous.

Miss Hopkins is aided by a sizable cast of seasoned veterans, mostly British, several of whom only appear in a single scene. Frances Dee has very little to do except look lovely as Becky's school chum. Nigel Bruce comes off rather better as Miss Dee's obese brother who adores Becky. The incomparable Alison Skipworth plays their quarrelsome old aunt who hires Becky for a short while. Alan Mowbray has a fine romantic role as the husband who worships Becky, to his pain.

Marvelous Sir Cedric Hardwicke successfully underplays his role as a powerful nobleman who takes Becky as his mistress. Wonderful Billie Burke appears for a few moments in a serious role as a society lady attending a soirée in Brussels. Doris Lloyd is the hostess.

Three short, sharp portrayals worth watching for are provided by Elspeth Dudgeon as an acidic girls' school proprietress; George Hassell as a rascally old baronet; and Tempe Pigott as a plain-talking charwoman.

BECKY SHARP is important historically in that it was the first film produced in full 3-strip Technicolor. Director Rouben Mamoulian's opulent production was a worthy choice for such a distinguished accolade. Restored in the 1990's, the color is once again most pleasing to the eye.
16 out of 18 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
(Techni)colorful dialogue
rsyung23 August 2002
I just had the pleasure of seeing the restored version of "Becky Sharp", and, like others who had taped this back in the bad old days of nearly monochromatic, public domain copies of this title, the improvement amounts to seeing an entirely different film. The use of color was striking and surprisingly well considered. As a writer, I found the dialogue delightfully rich in the manner of what were admittedly more sophisticated films of the 30's. Make no mistake, other than the admirable use of 3-strip Technicolor on its first feature film outing, this is no masterpiece--Mamoulian's name in the credits notwithstanding. But compared to today, with dialogue now largely dismissed as unnecessary to filmed "entertainment", it was brilliant. I could finally hear 90% of it, whereas in the old Cinecolor print, most of it was unintelligible. What pains me is that audiences seem unable (or unwilling) to enjoy dialogue that was meant to be listened to and appreciated on its own account. I heard nary a chuckle during any the witty ripostes of which Beck Sharp has its(and her) fair share of. A shame.
10 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
The use of colour within Becky Sharp makes it worth viewing.
jpi1028 February 2003
"Becky Sharp" seems to have consistently attracted unfair comments. Whilst it may not be as subtle as many of its contemporary counterparts, the story provides a fun basis for a glorious use of Technicolor. As the first feature length movie to be shot in full colour, the film is a wonderful example of cinema as spectacle. Though admittedly, at times, the viewer may almost be sent cross-eyed by the vibrancy of the colour, its use is interesting in so far as one can see the attempts made at one level to exhibit the colour, whilst also trying in vain not to distract from the narrative. Also, from the beginning of the opening sequence the status of the film as a stage adaptation is clear, and in this way the idea of the now overlooked tradition of cinema as spectacle is further enhanced.

The plot itself is slightly reminiscent of a Gainsborough melodrama (although it precedes them), and yet it is refreshing in many ways that Becky is not the subject of the traditional narrative retribution and resolution. The over-the-top nature of some of the narrative action does provide moments which may cause an audience member to cringe; however, if the film is not taken too seriously, it remains enjoyable.

"Becky Sharp" has too often been overlooked in the history of film. It may not have been widely popular at the time of its release, and it may not be seen within a high cinematic cannon, but it is definitely worth viewing, if only to appreciate the emergence of three colour film as the new advancement in film technology.
8 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
I'm giving it an 8 for Hopkins and the color
preppy-327 July 2003
Becky Sharp (Miriam Hopkins) is a lower class girl who, through her upper class friend Amelia Sedley (Francis Dee), does her best to become an upper class woman herself...and do anything to get there.

Dull story with thudding dialogue (nobody ever talked like that) but I watched the whole thing. This movie has just two things going for it: Miriam Hopkins fantastic performance is one. She is playing a very unlikable character but she's so beautiful (in some shots she takes your breath away) and full of life that you can't help but root for her. The second thing is the groundbreaking use of color photography. I believe this is the first full-length feature to be filmed entirely in color. Director Rouben Mamoulian uses color creatively to express mood or show what a person is feeling or doing. I saw the restored print which has rich, beautiful colors. Even when the story was boring (which is often) with that lousy dialogue the colors and use of light and shadow kept me watching. With this film and the 1932 version of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", Mamoulian created new rules in how to direct sequences and use settings, light and shadow. Sadly, he's forgotten today.

So, this is worth seeing only for Hopkins and the color. Don't watch it for the story or you'll be sadly disappointed.
14 out of 18 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
"Becky Sharp" of historical interest for film buffs
chuck-reilly11 June 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The 1935 film "Becky Sharp" remains important chiefly for being the first major movie shot in Technicolor. The story is an abridged version of William Makepeace Thackeray's 19th Century novel "Vanity Fair." Becky Sharp is the main character of the book and is a social-climbing hussy with few redeeming qualities, except for her good-looks. Thackeray didn't judge her too harshly, however. He was more interested in satirizing British society, in general. "Vanity Fair" was indeed his greatest work although he's also known for writing "The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon" which Stanley Kubrick brought to the screen in the mid-1970's.

Miriam Hopkins may have been a bit old to be playing the conniving Becky Sharp but she gives it her best shot. Unlike the novel, Hopkins' character is at least somewhat justified in her decision-making process even while retaining the frivolous part of her personality. The key scene in the film is near the end when director Rouben Mamoulian re-enacts the famous Duchess of Richmond's ball at her Brussels estate on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo. It's done with a definite flair for the dramatic along with some well-placed historical references. The ominous sounds of war are heard in the distance as the great ball comes to a premature end; its frightened participants running off into an uncertain future.

The cast is filled with some familiar faces from the past. Beautiful Frances Dee livens up the screen as Becky's good pal Amelia. Nigel Bruce, best remembered for playing Doctor Watson alongside Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes, does some adequate work as one of Becky's admirers. Sir Cedric Hardwicke is also around as a British aristocrat with a roving eye for the ladies. Recently, Reese Witherspoon tried her luck in the role of Becky Sharp in the 2004 film version of "Vanity Fair" with mixed results. At least she was young enough for the part.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
The great Miriam Hopkins at her best!!!!!
verna558 October 2000
Based on Thackeray's VANITY FAIR, this film tells of a self-centered girl(Miriam Hopkins), who, after years of looking after her own needs, finally does one good deed for someone else. Often noted as the first full color motion picture, BECKY SHARP has much more to offer in the way of entertainment. Hopkins, one of the finest actresses on-screen in the '30's, gives a magnificent performance in the title role which brought her a much deserved Oscar nomination. Director Rouben Mamoulian, who directed Hopkins in the 1931 version of DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, always had great visual style, a gift that's fully evident here.
8 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Bitterly hysterical
Rich Drezen (Drezzilla)1 January 2004
Miriam Hopkins delivers a great performance as a nonchalant woman who cheats her way through society before finding out that what goes around comes around, and of course she must find a way to redeem herself. The color in this film looks a lot better than most people of the day describes it as. And I think the guy who said the color looked like "boiled salmon dipped in mayonese" has had a little too much mayonese. Altogether, I highly recommend this film for anyone who can't seem to find a good movie to watch, because this is the one!
4 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
The first movie to be shot in glorious three-strip Technicolor!
Petri Pelkonen1 June 2009
This film is set around the Battle of Waterloo (1815).But more than the Napoleonic wars, the film tells about a social climber called Becky Sharp and all the men she meets.Rouben Mamoulian's Becky Sharp from 1935 was the first feature film to use the three-strip Technicolor process.The film was originally going to be directed by Lowell Sherman, but he died of pneumonia early in the filming.The film is based on the play by Langdon Mitchell, which in turn is based on William Makepeace Thackeray's novel Vanity Fair.Miriam Hopkins (nominated for Oscar) does a great job playing Becky Sharp.Frances Dee plays Amelia Sedley, Becky's upper-class friend at school.Nigel Bruce portrays her brother Joseph, who has something going on with Becky.Cedrick Hardwick plays Marquis of Steyne, who also has something going on with Becky.And so does Rawdon Crawley, who's portrayed by Alan Mowbray.Alison Skipworth is Miss Crawley.William Stack plays Pitt Crawley.George Hassell is Sir Pitt Crawley.Billie Burke portrays Lady Bareacres.Also in this movie you can see Pat Nixon, Richard Nixon's wife, as Ballroom dance extra.G.P. Huntley is George Osborne.This may not represent Hollywood at its most classic, but it does have its moments.It can be comical, like when Becky starts as a governess for Pitt Crawley's wild children.Or it can be dramatic, like when the war comes to the ball.And there's some great use of shadows.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Not fair! Not Vanity Fair!
netwallah21 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Thackeray's Vanity Fair transmogrified into a star vehicle for Miriam Hopkins. Nearly all of the other plots are cut away, leaving only traces in brief appearances of various characters. The story is revised, too, but in such a way that it's not always possible to tell what Ms. Sharp intends—does she love her husband Rawdon Crawley (Alan Mowbray) or not? or perhaps in a convenient way, that allows her to keep him and dally with others. Her connection with Lord Steyne (Cedric Hardwicke) is ambiguous, but she shows reluctance to let him proceed, and appears sad when her husband catches them together and leaves her. The presentation of her rise is too ambiguous—they do live "on nothing a year," but Mrs. Crawley's sharp practices are minimized, as if she were getting by on sheer cleverness and charm. Perhaps it's just that the Hays code won't let the screenplay even suggest an exchange of sexual favours for support, and this means that the glossing over of Becky Sharp's vicious streak turns the story into a costume drama featuring a determined and gay (in the old sense) young woman, taking on the snobs for her own advantage. And settling on bumbling Jos Sedley (Nigel Bruce) in the end, to escape with him to India or somewhere. Or perhaps it's just Miriam Hopkins, probably miscast. She affects a histrionic tone to her voice, perhaps so we will know she is acting. Not even her fine, unusual eyes redeem the messy business of this movie. She can't twinkle her way through this one.
2 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Innovative, Memorable, Significant, Rousing
Marcin Kukuczka1 August 2010
"(...) Director Rouben Mamoulian did a remarkable job with color experimentation. He decided to use color thematically to express character mood, and added more and more color as the film progresses and the plot thickens. Every shot looks color-coordinated. The most famous sequence is the panicky exit of the quests at the Duchess of Richmond's gala in Belgium on the eve of the battle of Waterloo (...) Mamoulian had quests leave according to their color group so only the one in red remained in the ballroom." (Danny Peary in GUIDE FOR THE FILM FANATIC 1986).

I have decided to entail this long quotation at the beginning of my review because I think that it best reflects the multiple significance of the feature film BECKY SHARP which won the color prize at the third Venice Film Festival. While discovering the uniqueness of Rouben Mamoulian, a pure follower of Moscow Art Theatre, a great admirer of Konstantin Stanislavsky (1863-1938) and a follower of the famous Stanislavski's system, I have found out how truthful he was to the emotions in cinema and how much focused on every single detail of images and acting techniques. Who could better introduce cinema to the three strip Technicolor in the 1930s than him? Mamoulian with his unbelievable flair for artistry on screen and sophisticated experimentation with the camera could effectively capture the essence of color.

Here, it is necessary to mention some unforgettable scenes from this movie that, for long, remain in one's memory. Except for the aforementioned ball scene that constitutes a sort of 'special pearl' on its own, the film entails a striking image of Napoleon's shadow over the map of Europe. What impact it has on the vision in a color feature film! What impact it must have had those days! The costumes with a special emphasis on red (which Mamoulian considered the most exciting color, a sort of climax) constitute another merit of the film's visual significance. The interiors appear to be lavish as well.

Yet, BECKY SHARP was quite neglected for years and available on weak copies. Although it was considered an important movie in the history of cinema (being the first feature in three-color Technicolor process - the period which lasted till 1953), it was forgotten for years and in no way considered a must-see. Fortunately, the film has been recently restored and is growing in popularity among classic buffs. Strange phenomenon...yet, it is not the color experimentation that makes it exciting nowadays, it is neither the source novel VANITY FAIR by one of the most respected British novelists William Makepeace Thackeray. It is, unfortunately, not Mamoulian whose name is today associated with totally different titles. I think it is Miriam Hopkins in the lead who still amuses our imagination, rouses our senses and has the power to make the film enjoyable. Having had experience with the director and his special treatment of actors' techniques (part of psychological realism) in DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE a few years earlier, she does an almost flawless job here. Let me broaden this point a little bit.

Ms Hopkins, nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, crafts her role very well with a heartfelt attitude towards her audience. She has quite a difficult role to portray, the role of the foxy young lady who climbs up to the highest ranks of the society using pretty unconventional means, deceitful means. Nevertheless, she catches the glimpse of the 'unreachable' (for many). A bad tempered girl to face the world, a sort of woman no one knows what she is about, a chit-chatting maiden for whom war is amusing, a ruthless Becky who does not give up her plans. Many scenes from the beginning scene when she leaves school through various moments, including her witty role of a governess, her serious role of a wife and a delicious role of a mistress. Miriam Hopkins is unforgettable and stands out from the supporting cast, some very good actors of the period including the distinguished Cedric Hardwicke as Marquis of Steyne.

In all the analysis of the first three strip Technicolor movie, the following adjectives will best describe it after all these decades: innovative, memorable, significant, rousing. INNOVATIVE color experimentation, MEMORABLE production in the history of cinema, SIGNIFICANT direction by Rouben Mamoulian and ROUSING performance by Miriam Hopkins. Worth seeing!
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Historically important...but probably not much interest to the average viewer.
MartinHafer3 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
BECKY SHARP is set during the Napoleonic era. When the film begins, Becky is leaving finishing school and the headmistress is thrilled to see her go. Becky, for her part, feels the same and unlike the demure ladies of the time, she tells the headmistress where she can put her school!! But, like a cat, she lands on her feet—being taken in by a rich classmate. After wrangling this invitation to stay with this rich lady, Becky then works hard to snag a rich husband. Instead, she does manage to marry a minor member of the gentry—but he cannot afford the rich ways of his new wife. Eventually, he tires of her whore-like ways and divorces her.

Becky, now broke, is forced to work in the lower quarters of society. But, once again, she manages to find a rich guy (Nigel Bruce) to bail her out and once again she begins scheming her way to the top. And, by the end of the film, Becky hasn't learned any lesson about life other than "look out for number one"! This film is the Thackery novel "Vanity Fair" and it's been made several times. What makes this one of some importance is that this was the first full-length film made in Three-Color Technicolor—the first true color process for movies. While Two-Color movies had been made since the early 1920s, they lacked full color as the color strips were blue-green and orange-red—resulting in a film that tended to actually look more orange and green than anything else (though there were a few exceptions where the colors actually looked pretty good—such as in the color segment in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA). Despite the major technical improvement with BECKY SHARP, it, too, looked rather muddy and orange. This is NOT due to the age of the print, as people at the time commented on its rather limited color palate. But, the process was roughly that of future full-color films and it is the first of its kind.

The story features the shallow but scheming Becky (Miriam Hopkins) working her way through society in order to further her great ambitions. To do so, she lies and plots continuously and she's quite good at it! However entertaining this is, it is also the biggest problem with the film. Because Becky is generally a selfish jerk (though not always so), it's hard to care about her and the film rests mostly on its costumes and full-color. As for Hopkins' acting, it's one of her best performances—though it is a tad two-dimensional—mostly due to the writing, not her acting. Had they made Becky either MORE evil and conniving (like Bette Davis in JEZEBEL or THE LETTER) or LESS, it would have improved the film immensely.

Overall, a rather forgettable costumer whose sole reason to watch it is the use of Three-Color film. Other than that, fans of Miriam Hopkins (both of them) might want to see it, as it's among her best performances—mostly because it doesn't call for a lot of restraint or subtlety.
2 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Becky returns in all her Technicolor glory
lestoboy30 August 2002
Good news for fans of this historically important film. Turner Classic Movies plans to air the fully restored version of Becky Sharp in December of this year! If you've never seen the film I urge you to give it a look. Director Mamoulian frames his shots like a great painter on a canvas.
2 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
more than just the first full-length color film
noone-1326 November 2001
While this film is often respected as the first full-length, all-color film, it is much more than that. Color stylist Robert Edmond Jones was hired to explore the possibilities of the Technicolor process. His color design for Becky Sharp forced the industry to recognize color as a necessary ingredient, not just a gimmick. He was the first to use color as "cinematically expressive," according to an interesting essay in Lewis Jacobs' The Movies as Medium (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, 1970, 189-196).
2 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Always enjoyable!
JohnHowardReid9 May 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Copyright 13 June 1935 by Pioneer Pictures, Inc. Released through RKO-Radio Pictures. New York opening at the Radio City Music Hall: 13 June 1935 (ran two weeks). U.S. release: 28 June 1935. U.K. release: 11 July 1935. Australian release: 18 September 1935. 9 reels. 84 minutes.

NOTES: Langdon Mitchell's play opened in New York on 12 September 1899 and ran a moderately successful 116 performances. It was revived no less than three times, the last in 1929. This film version was the first feature to be photographed entirely in three-strip Technicolor. Shooting commenced on 3 December 1934 under the direction of Lowell Sherman, who died on 28 December. Mamoulian took over on 14 January 1935, and re-shot all Sherman's footage. Miriam Hopkins was nominated for the year's most prestigious award for Best Actress, losing to Bette Davis in Dangerous.

COMMENT: Just as the play presented a potted version of the novel, so the film presents a potted version of the play. Nonetheless, although it will undoubtedly disappoint fans of Thackeray, it's a mighty entertaining offering. And not just for its often inspired use of color in sets and costumes, its lavish production values, its occasionally imaginative direction and sometimes exceptionally deft film editing.

Although she is inclined to over-act her scheming Becky, Miriam Hopkins maintains interest in her characterization. In fact, she dominates the movie to such an extent, the other players-with the notable exception of strong-minded Alison Skipworth-are often put in the shade. Even Sir Cedric Hardwicke gives up the unequal struggle and is content merely to mouth his lines.

True, Nigel Bruce and Alan Mowbray seem determined to make the most of their scenes, but their valiant efforts come to little. Only Tempe Pigott manages briefly to share the Hopkins limelight. Billie Burke is hardly in the movie at all, and even the lovely Frances Dee makes little impression.

But for all its relentless concentration on the often unsympathetic Becky, the movie, as said, is always enjoyable. Indeed it's one of those rare films that you feel you need to see again.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Virtue is its Own Reward
lugonian19 March 2017
BECKY SHARP (Pioneer Pictures, released through Radio Pictures, 1935), directed by Rouben Mamoulien, stars Miriam Hopkins in the title role for earned her an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress. Produced at the time where classic literature from famous British novelists as Charles Dickens were brought to life on the motion picture screen, BECKY SHARP, from the famous novel "Vanity Fair" by William Makepeace Thackeray, is most notable mainly for being the first feature film produced entirely in the new and improved Technicolor process. Though Thackeray's Becky Sharp did get produced to the motion picture screen all as "Vanity Fair" in the silent era (1915, 1923), and an early sound modern-dress adaptation for Allied Studios (1932) starring non-other than Myrna Loy of all people, this latest edition may be the best known but one that should have been an another surefire hit to the studio's earlier success of LITTLE WOMEN (1933). At 83 minutes, this screen comedy-drama, centering upon Becky Sharp and her scheming ways of winning affections of wealthy men, does have its good points, especially when Becky lies, cheats and cries convincingly to those listening her sob stories, while all the while she's laughing from inside thinking what a bunch of fools they are. There's a couple of instances where she lets her victims know she's made fools of them and happy about her accomplishment. At one point Becky does make amends to the hurt she's done Amelia, but throughout, Becky retains her ambition as a social climber, no matter what the odds.

Set in 19th Century England, and basic "Virtue is its own reward" theme, the story opens with Amelia Sedley (Frances Dee), a popular student among classmates and teachers, leaving the boarding school of Miss Pinkerton's Academy. Also at that school is her closest friend, Becky Sharp (Miriam Hopkins), a not-so-popular girl boarding there as a charity case. As Miss Pinkerton (Elspeth Dudgeon) offers Amelia a going away gift of "Doctor Johnson's Dictionary" as a token of her affection, Amelia surprises everybody by having Becky come home and remain with her until she able to support herself. During the course of time, Becky flirts with Amelia's buffoonish brother, Joseph (Nigel Bruce). When things begin to look serious in their relationship, his father sends him away to India. As Amelia finds herself with two childhood suitors, Captain William Dobbins (Colin Tapley) and George Osborne (G.P. Huntley Jr.), and decision which one to marry, Becky soon lands a position as governess for Pitt Crawley (William Stack) and his unruly children. She agrees to the position upon meeting Captain Random Crawley (Alan Mowbray) of the British Army, who then offers her a new position caring for his rich aunt, Julia (Alison Skipworth), and later another position as his wife. During a society ball hosted by the snobbish Lady Barreacres (Billie Burke), Becky attracts the attention of the Marquis of Steyne (Cedric Hardwicke) who becomes fascinated by her. The function is interrupted by cannon sounds at a distance, where soldiers, including Random, immediately take off to what's to become Napoleon Bonaparte's battle at Waterloo. After the war, problems arise for Becky as Random meets with 500 pound gambling debt, and her husband's suspicions as to how she acquired the large sum of money to help pay off his debts. Other members of the cast include: William Faversham (Duke of Wellington); Charles Richman (General Tufts); Doris Lloyd (Duchess of Richmond); Leonard Mudie (Lloyd Tarquin), among others.

A public domain title, BECKY SHARP began circulation on video cassette starting in the early 1980s about the same time when broadcast on cable television stations as Arts and Entertainment (A&E). It wasn't until March 1993 that the fully restored Technicolor BECKY SHARP with RKO Radio logo intact aired on American Movie Classics as part of its film preservation festival, and then a decade later on Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: December 2, 2002), and availability onto DVD from various media sources.

BECKY SHARP appears to contain only small passages to famous pieces of both book and play, which explains why such notable performers as Alison Skipworth and Billie Burke appearing ever so briefly. Had the movie followed the book closely, chances are BECKY SHASRP might have been close to two hour mark or further in its storytelling. Though Hopkins handles her characterization well, it's a wonder how a natural born British actress like Elsa Lanchester in a rare starring role might have handled it? Aside from colorful costumes and mostly British cast, there's also shadowy images captured on the wall and strong musical background that leave a lasting impression and "virtue is its own reward" for Miriam Hopkins. (***1/2)
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Aimless movie
gridoon20185 March 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I watched this right after the 1932 version of the same story (there titled "Vanity Fair"). The one big difference is that the 1932 film was a drama, this is a comedy. The other important difference is that this was made in 1935 and therefore the material is defanged by the Code. Miriam Hopkins is miscast (she looks too old for a girl just starting out), but she is attractive and energetic; some of the supporting players overact appallingly. The story is aimless; at least the 1932 film (which is superior) made a point, with which you could agree or disagree. Even the colors don't look very vivid - though that might be a fault of the DVD print I watched. ** out of 4.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
The first color movie!
Eric Stevenson13 May 2016
It's pretty hard to believe that the first color movie came out only eight years after the first talking film! Then again, it seems really weird. It took only four years for every movie to have sound, but it took thirty years for every movie to have color! You can tell that this is the first color movie. I think there are a few transition scenes that look black and white or at least in low quality. It's weird because there isn't much else to say about the movie. I guess the good technically outweighs the bad in this, but I wouldn't quite recommend it.

I think the film's problem is that it's too short. It shows the title character becoming more cynical, but the transition seems too fast. There should have been more time to flesh out her personality. I had no idea that this took place during the Napoleonic era. It was really nice to see how those historical events affected the actual story here. It seems to be a part of history that hasn't been depicted in film that many times before.

Weird, I heard this was in public domain, but I don't see it listed on Wikipedia's list. I guess I can't quite recommend it, as the story isn't that memorable, but it's still wonderful to see the earliest use of full color. There were in fact earlier movies like "The King Of Kings" that had some color sequences, and that is in fact a much better movie. Still a must for really historians of any kind. **1/2 out of ****.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Little Did She Know --
Robert J. Maxwell9 April 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Thackeray's novel, "Vanity Fair," published during the same period as Dickens' work, runs about 800 pages. It's a long, difficult slog. The writers here have cut the story down to less than an hour and a half and the result is a kind of "Classic Comics" version that I doubt loses much in the transposition.

The nice girl, Amelia, brings home a guest for Christmas, her school chum Becky Sharp (Myrna Loy). It's apparent in the first few minutes that Becky is pretty sharp alright, although "pitiless" might be a more apt modifier. She can smell money and aristocracy. She puts the moves on just about all the men -- old, young, married, engaged to Amelia -- it doesn't make any difference.

And that, basically, is the whole of this dismal tale. The men, of course, grovel at her dainty feet the moment she glances at them. Although, to be honest, unless these guys are complete dolts, they must realize that she's a piece of hazardous material, throwing her perils before swains.

By borrowing, cheating, and seducing, she works her way close to the top before everything falls apart. She's even cheated her loyal housekeeper, Polly. Becky winds up alone and debauched in a dingy apartment.

None of the performances are memorable and Myrna Loy, though a fine actress, is limited by the technology of the time. It has to be admitted, though, that the attraction she has for men is understandable, especially when we see her modeling this backless gown, cut almost to her sacral dimple. Her figure blends glowing ivory flesh with vulnerability. Yum.

The director is Chester Franklin and he's put some thought into the job, not startling by today's upside-down standards but a novelty in 1932. Myrna Loy is at a dressing table looking into a mirror at the end. Her face is that of a spent whore. She remarks that it's odd how sometimes one can look as young as she once was, and her features brighten, the dark circles fade, and she's young and beautiful again before the present reasserts itself.

And, again, she's looking down from her window at the departing Amelia, ex friend, who climbs into an open carriage with her fiancé, who tenderly lays a robe over her lap. The scene is shot from directly overhead. There are a couple of nicely seamed visual transitions from one scene to the next. A running kitchen faucet dissolves into a filling bath tub, for instance.

But it's hard to overcome the old-fashioned soap opera aspects of the story. Frankly, it's a little dull.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
The friends Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley set out for marital affairs in the shadow of the Waterloo campaign - with consequences and complications.
clanciai4 December 2014
Rouben Mamoulian (birthday today 4.12) was always ahead of his time. This was the first full color feature (1935!) based on William Thackeray's "Vanity Fair", one of the greatest novels of the 19th century, full of literary splendor, transported on the screen not without success. Mamoulian's last film was "Silk Stockings" (1957) with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, but he also started on "Porgy and Bess" (completed by Otto Preminger) and "Cleopatra" (1962, completed by Joe Mankiewicz). - With its striking gallery of great actors, like Allan Mowbray, Nigel Bruce ("Dr Watson"), Cedric Hardwicke, Billie Burke and Miriam Hopkins among others, it is great theater all the way in Mamoulian's characteristic lushness and splendor of vivacity and imagery in very innovative direction - the feature is above all a feast to the eyes and an amazing film in spite of its almost 80 years - and impressing as the first full length color film.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A Beautiful Movie To Look At-Okay To Watch
louisb-399-52462929 June 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Years ago, this movie played on American Movie Classics, where I was able to record a VHS copy and put it away for almost 25 years. While going through a box of VHS tapes in my garage recently, this movie surfaced and I watched it again to see what my reaction would be. This review is for the UCLA Restoration Print, which is what AMC played the day I recorded it. The first half-hour or so seems very fuzzy and occasionally out of focus, and the colors are so glaring that I often felt as though I was viewing a black and white movie that had been colorized(the yellows are especially off-putting). After this period of discomfort, the color seemed to stabilize and I was able to actually get into the plot of the film, which truth be told is pretty predictable once you realize that it basically involves a woman who uses whatever means necessary to advance her station in life. Miriam Hopkins is actually very good in a broad, humorous sort of way, and if you look at this as a star vehicle for her the movie succeeds. I also noticed that close-ups were consistently beautiful, so maybe the inconsistent color issues were related to the difficulty in shooting color scenes in long-shot.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Rising above your class
bkoganbing22 May 2013
Miriam Hopkins gives a spirited and possibly career performance in the title role of Becky Sharp based on William Makepeace Thackerey's novel Vanity Fair. The film comes by way of Langdon Mitchell's play based on Vanity Fair with the change in title. It ran on Broadway in 1899 for 116 performance.

And what a cast it had back in 1899. Mrs. Mary Madden Fiske was Becky, Maurice Barrymore was her luckless gambling fool of a husband, the part that Alan Mowbray has here and as the aristocratic rake that Hopkins is ready to give all to to square Mowbray's debts is played by Cedric Hardwicke in the film. On Broadway the role originated with Tyrone Power, Sr.

Thackerey's novel was a critique of the class system in Great Britain, but really offers no solutions. It's also a story of how much more difficult it was to be a woman and poor with so many fewer options open to them.

Becky Sharp is such a woman. She's been given a good education, attending school with the rich aristocratic Frances Dee. By education I mean finishing school. How she got there we're not sure, but having been exposed to how the other half lives she wants to be part of it.

Her friend Frances Dee invites her to live with her family and Hopkins starts seizing her opportunities. The rest of the story is about what happens to her and the various schemes she concocts. She's not afraid to use sex to obtain what she wants, riches and respectability.

Besides those I've already mentioned there's a really nice performance by Nigel Bruce as Frances Dee's Colonel Blimp like brother. In the end he proves to be Hopkins's salvation.

As a film Becky Sharp has come down in history to us as the first film using the modern technicolor process. It was a novelty, but as a story it definitely has merit.

And it is so much better than the version with Myrna Loy updated to the Roaring Twenties that came out under the original title of Vanity Fair a few years earlier.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A technicolor curiosity
trevorwomble25 January 2011
My memories of this film are a little jaded because its been years since i saw it and its never been released in the UK.

However what i do remember of it is how good Miriam Hopkins is in the lead role. Although the direction is a little staged and awkward, the experienced cast do help to keep this film watchable. This was the first full length three strip technicolor feature film so kudos to the studio for taking the gamble with making it. It is no great surprise it is studio bound because of the amount of lighting that was needed on early technicolor. Also the technicolor cameras were bulky too making the directors job pretty difficult too. The Art department must shoulder some of the blame for the mixed results though. I seem to remember their colour scheme was really uninspired. They could have used nice bright primary colours to show off the system but they erred on a colour set up that made you feel was lacking in courage. However on a critical note, Becky Sharpe was a decently made costume drama that was fairly average with good performances. However its is interesting to note how quickly technicolor improved after 1935. Check out 'Wings of The Morning' from 1937 to see a film that may have had a bad script but made excellent use of external location filming and the colours were a lot more naturalistic.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews