Sunday, January 1, 2012

SUZY (MGM 1936) Warner Archive Collection

Based on Herman Gorman's novel, George Fitzmaurice's Suzy (1936) is a congenial, but misshapen narrative melodrama set against the backdrop of WWI. The screenplay by Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell, Horace Jackson and Lenore J. Coffee has its ups and downs. The chief problem with the story is that it waffles between legitimate melodrama and hackneyed hokum; a lot of sound and fury signifying absolutely nothing by the final fade out.
Despite the fact that Jean Harlow is cast as the title character, cabaret singer Suzanne 'Suzy' Trent, the film really doesn't belong to her character. After her stage show closes Suzy decides to stay in England to look for another show or a rich husband. She finds neither but quickly latches on to loveable factory worker, Terry Moore (Franchot Tone) who truly adores her and comes to consider her his lucky charm. Terry is working on a stabilizer for aircrafts in his spare time - a device he is certain will make him rich.
Unhappy chance that the munitions factory where he works is run by Mrs. Schmidt (Greta Meyer) and a gaggle of German spies who waste no time in their attempt to murder Terry after they think he has overheard their plans for industrial espionage. Terry and Suzy are married. But on the eve of their wedding Terry is shot by German spy Madame Diane Eyrelle (Benita Hume) in Suzy's presence. Believing that Diane has murdered her husband - and also erroneously suspecting that she will be accused of the crime, Suzy flees to France and the relative safety of her friend, Maisie's (Inez Courtney) apartment.
Maise gets Suzie a job as a cabaret singer where she meets charismatic French flyboy Capt. Andre Charville (Cary Grant). At first the two mix like oil and water. But very quickly Suzie falls under Andre's romantic spell. What she fails to realize is that Andre's way with her is his way with all women. He is a loveable womanizer incapable of settling down. Nevertheless, Suzy and Andre are married. Andre's father, Baron Edward Charville (Lewis Stone) knows his son better than that. He is cold and aloof toward Suzy, believing that she has married his son for the family fortune. But when he sees just how much she truly loves Andre, Edward becomes Suzy's sincere champion - dedicating himself to seeing that Andre remains true to her.
Andre is recalled to the battlefront and wounded. While convalescing in the army hospital he is visited by Diane with whom he is having an affair. He is also visited by Suzy who inadvertently is reunited with Terry. The two bitterly reconcile after Terry learns Suzy and Andre are married. But when Suzy learns of her husband's affair with Diane she also recalls where she has seen his lover before. She tells Terry that Diane is the one who shot him on their wedding night and that Andre is in grave danger. Terry and Suzy hurry to Diane's home to warn Andre but in an ensuing struggle Andre is shot and killed, forcing Terry to take over his air raid mission and win the aerial battle in his stead. After shooting Diane, Terry conquers the German forces in the skies before crashing his plane near Diane's house. Terry and Suzy dress up Andre's corpse to make it appear as though he has been the one flying the plane. The French air force mourn their loss, but Terry and Suzy go off together - united in the knowledge that they have lived up to the legacy of Andre Charville.
As top flight entertainment, Suzy never gets off the ground. Harlow isn't bad in this melodrama, but she's not quite as glittery or engaging either. Grant is wholly unacceptable as a Frenchman. No accent, no depth of character - just the old Cary Grant we're used to seeing. That said, he's still Cary Grant - charisma plus - and for most that's probably good enough. The same cannot be said of Franchot Tone's pitiful attempt at an Irish brogue. It's there and then it's not. He is the least convincing of the three principles.
All these sins could be forgotten if the script were better. It's not. The opening act puts our heroine in familiar territory, then plucks her from this musical mélange to thrust her full force into a dark tale of espionage where she tends to languish. The last two thirds of the story are really about Terry - struggling to reconcile his emotions between jealousy and admiration for Andre, to forget that he is married to his wife and to do right by their friendship. As such, Harlow's Suzy really gets cast into the dust bin during the film's last act. She's merely the go between these two soldiers of misfortune - serving as a bridge that will bring her back to her first love, Terry.
Warner's Archive MOD DVD is adequate, though hardly exceptional. The gray scale is nicely balanced but the image is frequently softly focused with a loss of fine detail throughout. Age related artifacts are everywhere and frequently distract. A hint of edge enhancement crops up now and then but nothing that will hinder one's viewing pleasure. The audio is mono and with a noticeable hiss and pop throughout. A radio promo is the only extra.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)

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