SPOTLIGHT: Cunning Pre-Code Bennett (IV)

Welcome to a new Film Friday and the continuation of our spotlight series on the Pre-Code work of the unjustly neglected Constance Bennett (1904-1965), whose work we’d never covered before here on Film Friday! So far in our Bennett series, we’ve covered The Easiest Way (1931), What Price Hollywood? (1932), and Our Betters (1933). Today…

 

Bed Of Roses (1933)

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A girl from the wrong side of the tracks is torn between true love and a life of sin. Starring Constance Bennett, Joel McCrea, John Halliday, and Pert Kelton. Written by Wanda Tuchock. Dialogue by Gregory La Cava and Eugene Thackrey. Directed by Gregory La Cava.

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“As soon as they are released from prison, crafty and tough Lorry Evans and Minnie Brown board a Mississippi River steamboat bound for New Orleans. Short on cash, the women invite two boll weevil exterminators to their cabin and, after getting them drunk, steal their money. When Lorry’s activities are reported to the captain, she jumps overboard rather than be arrested, but loses the stolen cash as she is pulled from the water by Dan, the skipper of a passing cotton barge. Although she is attracted to the manly Dan, Lorry robs him of sixty dollars and, once docked in New Orleans, heads for the office of Stephen Paige, a wealthy publisher whom she had spotted on the steamboat.

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“Using an array of feminine tricks, Lorry seduces the straight-laced Stephen and then blackmails him into making her his well-kept mistress. Once established with Stephen, Lorry returns to Dan’s barge to repay him for his involuntary loan and ends up falling in love with him. Although she at first accepts Dan’s marriage proposal, Lorry, who has kept her affair a secret, changes her mind when a lovesick Stephen convinces her that her past deceptions will one day lead to Dan’s ruin…” (This summary is brought to you courtesy of TCM.)

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This 67-minute comedy/drama about two thieving hookers, one of whom believes that her shady past makes her unworthy of her one true love, is exactly the kind of fare that the Pre-Code era delivers effortlessly. The hookers here are Constance Bennett, who obviously is embroiled in the love story with a dewey-eyed but ultra-masculine Joel McCrea, and Pert Kelton, the original Alice in the Cavalcade of Stars “Honeymooners” sketches, who sashays around and delivers her lines with that half-closed mouth delivery popularized in ’33 by Paramount’s Mae West. They make a great team; Bennett is the classy one, even when wearing overalls she’s lit well and adorned in the finest of cosmetics, and Kelton is the low-down wisecracking one, often stealing her scenes and perhaps the film.

But Bennett herself is reason enough to watch Bed Of Roses. Sure, she’s a little too patrician to be completely tawdry, but she says all the right things and makes all the right moves, so in the context of the film, she plays her role believably. And although the love story is a bit dime-a-dozen (especially for this type of picture), her scenes with McCrea play with that romantic simplicity conducive to moments of great humanity. There are sparks, maybe not of the electrical sort, but the kind of good old-fashioned flames — which burn slowly but in great bursts of energy. So, aside from the generic familiarity of the story, the film has a lot of little things that make it an easy picture to recommend to both Bennett fans and lovers of shameless Pre-Code fun.

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Come back next Friday for another Constance Bennett Pre-Code! And tune in on Monday for the start of a whole new week of fun on That’s Entertainment! 

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