Monday, January 28, 2013

Pre-Code Parade: NO OTHER WOMAN (1933)

Here's that picture I mentioned in yesterday's post that was playing Milwaukee eighty years ago this week. J. Walter Ruben directed it but may as well have shared credit with montage specialist Slavko Vorkapich, who does get credit here with "transitional effects." Vorkapich helps Ruben get this story done in under an hour, and I doubt anyone wanted it to linger any longer. No Other Woman is a masochistic melodrama about the conflicted love of socially ambitious steelworker's daughter Anna (Irene Dunne) and unambitious steelworker Jim Stanley (Charles Bickford). Jim is only relatively unambitious; he aims to be a crew leader at the mill, but Anna looks beyond the mill to a wider world of culture and achievement. She sympathizes with the young chemist Joe (Eric Linden) but loves Jim despite herself and marries him. She gets him to save money when he'd rather blow his paycheck and turns their new home into a boardinghouse to build the account even more. Jim tires of it one night and goes on a bender. Anna sees another woman walk him home but is all forgiveness when he wakes contrite in the morning. In his contrition he's also more receptive to Anna's suggestion that they invest their savings in Joe's new dye process. Cue the transitional effect as the project expands from a humble factory to an industrial empire.

The Stanleys are rich now but Jim has an itch he has to scratch. He has an affair with Margot (doomed Dietrich clone Gwili Andre) and, emboldened by alcohol, decides to divorce Anna. She won't let him go, but we're to understand that she has his best interests at heart. Jim has to take her to court and helped by his nasty lawyer Bonelli (despite the Italian name J. Carroll Naish skips his ethnic shtick) he gets his household staff to perjure themselves by testifying to Anna's tryst with some sap. It's they said, she said, but Anna has no way to prove that anyone's lying. A divorce means she loses not only her husband but her son, and that's taking things too far. Defying the court, she acquiesces in every lie but insists that Jim can't take custody of the boy because the boy isn't his! Guilty Jim has been hanging his head and hiding his face throughout the trial, but Anna's gambit wakes him up to his own viciousness. He abruptly confesses to suborning the perjury of his servants, withdraws his demand for divorce, and gets arrested. Vorkapich shows us a whirlpool of newsprint revealing that Jim has gone to jail and lost his fortune; a symbolic shot has the jailbird watching through prison bars as his empire disappears, bit by bit, in a reversal of the earlier transition effect. He's out after a year and in a spirit of self-abnegation takes a menial job in the old mill. He's promptly discovered and Anna appears to forgive him and take him back before he can pack his bags and bolt. You have to wonder why he took a job close to home if he didn't want to see any of his old friends or loved ones, but that's where the tall corn grows.

No Other Woman is often visually interesting, not only for the Vorkapich  bits but for a cute model steel mill that belches fire from its smokestacks like clockwork, but the story is ridiculous. Or at least I like to think it is. But just last week I was reading an obituary for the woman who married her boyfriend after he got out of jail for blinding her with acid. Love is strange and love is stupid. You'd think that a couple who went through that courtroom ordeal could never forgive or even speak to each other again. If they think differently, maybe that's not just because they're badly conceived fictional characters. Others are better qualified to judge than I.

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