Sunday, January 24, 2010

Something to look at

Female (1933) starring Ruth Chatterton as a hard-driving, male-subordinate-chasing auto executive is in circulation on TCM and on DVD because of the kind of racy implications found in Pre-Production Code films such as this. And yes, it's fun for its table-turning aspect as she is startled by the first man who insists on his own dignity and integrity and refuses to jump in bed with her because she is the boss. (Her previous boy toys have all been shipped out of town when she was done with them. And how satisfying that must have been--and still must be--for the female audience!)

But there are reasons to watch and enjoy Female. Chatterton has one of those stuffy theatrical English accents (more forgiveable since she was English) but once you get past that, she is a fun strong heroine, with a nice chemistry with her real-life husband, George Brent. Michael Curtiz with Casablanca and Yankee Doodle Dandy far in his future maintains an even brisker pace than his usual brisk pace.

The real unexpected treat of this film is the quality of its visual design, both in Chatterton's costumes which are novel in that early-30s way without making you say "what-were-they-thinking" as is so common for the era. But the production design is seriously wonderfully crazy--Art Deco gone Expressionistic, with everything in enormous proportion yet looking somehow plausible with its swoops, curves, strong verticals and neo-Aztec decoration. Appropriately, the film ends out in the country, as if it were only when she got away from the dippy proto-fascist architecture that Chatterton's character could think clearly about having a real life. OK, the way the conclusion is stated is sexist as appropriate for its time, but it still seems logical and well prepared, given the protagonist's prior restlessness. A very satisfying sixty minutes.

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