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

Thursday, September 6, 2012

THE CHEAT

Tallulah Bankhead
THE CHEAT (1931). Director: George Abbott.

"If you're trying to appeal to my better nature, it's hopeless, for I haven't any."

Elsa Carlyle (Tallulah Bankhead) and her husband Jeffrey (Harvey Stephens) are feeling a financial pinch when Elsa makes matters worse by losing a bundle at cards. She compounds this error by making a very unsound investment. The oily Hardy Livingstone (Irving Pichel), a wealthy man who collects women like literal trophies, offers Elsa his help -- but at a price she isn't willing to pay, leading to melodramatic complications and a climactic courtroom scene. Except for her overacting at the finale, Bankhead is quite good, and while hardly a raving beauty, one can imagine she never lacked for dates. Stephens is adequate and Pichel is fine, although the movie might have had more of an edge -- and given Elsa more of a moral dilemma -- had Hardy been played by a sexier actor one could believe she was attracted to. The picture is minor but holds the attention and Bankhead is basically swell and appealing. Pichel was later the villain in the serial Dick Tracy's G-Men and directed many films, including The Most Dangerous Game (co-director) and Quicksand. Bankhead later appeared in everything from Hitchcock's Lifeboat to Die, Die, My Darling to the TV series' Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour and Batman.

Verdict: Creaky old pre-code melodrama enlivened by Bankhead. **1/2.

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