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

Thursday, January 10, 2019


Bette Davis and Gene Raymond
EX-LADY (1933). Director: Robert Florey.

Commercial artist Helen Bauer (Bette Davis of Deception) doesn't like the idea of marriage even if her boyfriend is Don Peterson (Gene Raymond of Hit the Deck), the handsome head of a small advertising agency. Nevertheless, after some hesitation the two decide to get hitched, only Helen is convinced that this has spoiled things, only creating jealousy and hurt feelings. They decide to live separately and make dates, even with other people. Don dallies with Peggy (Kay Strozzi), who is married to a man who makes boilers, while Helen goes out with the oily Nick  Malvyn (Monroe Owsley of The Keyhole). But will this arrangement really work in the long run?

Bette Davis and Monroe Owsley
Ex-Lady is an odd pre-code movie that tries to be daring but amounts to very little, daring or otherwise. The only really good points are the performances of Davis and Raymond, who are attractive and charming and play very well together. Helen seems like a confused woman who doesn't know what she wants, and she isn't much addicted to logic. She seems to believe that only a wife can be jealous, but there are many girlfriends and fiancees who would beg to differ. When she and Don choose to have (rather chaste) "affairs," their partners are not nearly as attractive as they are. Frank McHugh plays a poetic urbane type instead of his usual schnook, and although he doesn't quite pull it off, he does suggest that he could have had success with a wider variety of roles.

uncredited opera singer 
At least there are a couple of snappy musical numbers, one playing on the radio at Nick's apartment and the other performed by a group with a dancer in a Havana nightclub. This scene ends with Helen and Don, on their honeymoon, collapsing out of frame into a chair as the dancer sways seductively at the top of the frame. And we mustn't forget the uncredited woman who sings a bit of opera at a party. Although I believe the audience is supposed to think she's awful, she actually doesn't have a bad voice. All in all, despite the welcome touches of early feminist attitudes, this is just another unmemorable early Bette Davis movie, the kind that almost sank her career before it really got started.

Verdict: Bette is always interesting; the picture less so. **. 


angelman66 said...

Never was a fan of the early, blond Davis. Was not until her slatternly portrayal of the crude waitress in of Human Bondage that the talent started to shine through for me...and she reached her career zenith in the 40s melodramas then crowned it with All About Eve...

William said...

I think you're on target there! I think she gave some good performances in those early thirties films but she really came into her own when she finally got some decent material she could sink her teeth into, such as "The Letter" and the films you mention. She could also give some crappy performances as she got older, but in the thirties, no matter what drek they put her in, at least she jumped out at you like few other ingenues did of the period.