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

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Irene Dunne and John Boles

BACK STREET (1932).Director: John M. Stahl.

The first film version of Fannie Hurst's famous novel of a "back street" affair is a bit more faithful to the book, but not quite as successful as the 1941 version with Margaret Sullavan and Charles Boyer, although the acting in this version is also top-notch. In Cincinnati, Ray Schmidt (Irene Dunne) meets Walter Saxel (John Boles), who turns out to have a fiancee. Walter and Ray fall in love, and the former wants the latter to meet his mother and see how the old lady reacts to her. On her way for the fateful rendezvous, Ray gets sidetracked when her stepsister Freda (June Clyde) importunes her to come with her to her boyfriend, who knocked her up, and demand that he do the right thing. By the time Ray arrives at the bandstand to meet Mrs. Saxel, it's too late. However, Walter and Ray meet up in New York years later and begin a life-long affair. The rest of the movie has virtually the same script as the 1942 version with the exception that Ray/Dunne has a neighbor who is also a lonely kept woman. [Another difference is that in this version Ray's father is still alive.] Irene Dunne is outstanding as Ray, and it could be argued has a stronger, more emotional reaction than Sullavan [who perhaps underplays a bit too much] as she learns of the ultimate fate of her beloved. Bole is perhaps more romantic and more tender than Boyer was in certain sequences. In any case, while this version is not as good as the Back Street of 1941, it is still a creditable and entertaining picture. Zazu Pitts has a small role as the usual dithery landlady.

Verdict: Dunne and Boles make a nice duo. ***.

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