Thursday, August 6, 2009

'The Woman Condemned' hasn't aged well

The Woman Condemned (1934)
Starring: Richard Hemingway, Claudia Dell, Lola Lane, Paul Ellis, and Mischa Auer
Director: Mrs. Wallace Reid
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

When a radio station's star attraction (Lane) takes a mysterious leave of absence, the station manager becomes concerned that the largest sponsor of her show may pull out. He hires a private detective (Dell) to locate her and to find out why she needed the break... but when the P.I. is arrested for the murder of the singer, things start to get desperate on all fronts.

"The Woman Condemned" is a film that straddles the line between the mystery and comedy genres. The weird way through which Dell's lady P.I. Barbara Hammond and skirt-chasing gossip reporter Jerry Beall (Hemingway) meet and get married is absurd and hilarious, but the plot surrounding the murder of the singer and Beall's attempts to uncover proof of Hammond's innocence is a pretty serious (if a bit far-fetched, once all the details come to light) mystery tale.

This is one of those films that time has passed by. The camerawork and acting is more reminiscent of a silent movie than is healthy for the film (I had the same complaint about the other film from this director that I've seen, "Sucker Money") and the third act twists have become more eye-rolling than shocking with the 70+ years of mystery films that have been made since its release. However, the pace is fast enough and the set-up odd enough that the film will keep the attention of viewers who enjoy 1930s cinema. (The plot is also engaging enough that with some updating and rewriting of the ending, it would make a better remake candidate than all those 1980s movies everyone in Hollywood seems intent on revisiting.)

Trivia: The person behind the odd director's credit of "Mrs. Wallace Reid" was the one-time hugely celebrated silent movie star Dorothy Davenport. She turned to writing and directed later in her career, using her husband's name as her byline. She continued this habit until 1935.