Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

THE ANIMAL KINGDOM

Leslie Howard and Myrna Loy
THE ANIMAL KINGDOM (1932). Director: Edward H. Griffith. Based on the play by Philip Barry.

"A foolish virgin, me. Well, foolish anyway." -- Daisy.

Tom Collier (Leslie Howard), scion of the very wealthy Rufus Collier (Henry Stephenson), has had a casual if intimate relationship with aspiring artist Daisy Sage (Ann Harding) for years, a relationship of which his father does not approve. Tom seems to think that he and Daisy are, first and foremost, best friends and nothing more, but he discovers that Daisy is actually in love with him and wants to marry him just at the moment that he comes to tell her he's gotten engaged to the more "respectable" Cecelia (Myrna Loy). Tom just doesn't get that Daisy needs to be apart from him to mend her broken heart, but his feelings for her just won't recede even as he realizes he may have made the wrong choice. The Animal Kingdom begins quite well but it's mostly the wonderful acting from the three leads and supporting players alike that put this over, as its contrivances and false theatricality eventually do it in. Played sympathetically by Loy [Lonelyhearts], Daisy is treated especially horribly by both Tom and the film, which contrasts her unfavorably with a prostitute. As usual in these triangle dramas, one wonders if the utterly weak man in the middle is really worth all the hand-wringing from the ladies, as Tom seems a superficial sort content to churn out bestselling potboilers even as Daisy and others seem to think he can and should be writing "literature." Stephenson [Tarzan Finds a Son] scores as the father; William Gargan is the comedy relief prizefighter turned butler; and Neil Hamilton is as bland and puffy as ever as a friend who is in love with Cecelia. Ilka Chase, Leni Stengel and Don Dillaway [Platinum Blonde] have smaller roles and are effective. The character of Cecelia is, I believe, intended to be the unloving, social climbing wife who cares little for what her husband wants as long as she's well-dressed, but Loy's playing gives the character much more dignity and subtlety than that, and in an early scene she admirably defends Tom against all the negative remarks made by his father. But these attempts to make things a little less black and white don't quite succeed.

Verdict: Interesting in spots, and very well-acted, but also pretentious and dated. **1/2.

2 comments:

angelman66 said...

Hi Bill - Sounds like I can give this one a pass...I have a confession to make: Much as I try, there are very very few early 30s movies that I enjoy. Just this week tried to watch Mary Pickford in the movie that won her the Best Actress Oscar, Coquette, I think from 1929...they really did not have the Vitaphone perfected yet and Pickford literally sounded like Lina Lamont from Singin in the Rain...

I'm much better with movies of the late 1930s....I have several 1939 titles in my DVD collection...
-Chris

William said...

Good points about early 1930's movies. "Animal Kingdom" is not as creaky as other movies of the period in terms of camerawork and the like. Some people love the pic; to me it's just mediocre. I would rather look at movies from forties and onward in general, but there are thirties and silent films I enjoy. Never saw "Coquette." I may not rush to see it, LOL!