SPOTLIGHT: Juicy Pre-Code Crawford (II)

Welcome to a new Film Friday and the continuation of our final series of posts! We’re returning to one of our earliest spotlighted stars, Joan Crawford (1904-1977), and featuring some of the remaining Pre-Codes we’ve yet to cover. Elsewhere on this blog, we’ve highlighted Dance, Fools, Dance (1931), Possessed (1931), Grand Hotel (1932), Letty Lynton (1932), Dancing Lady (1933), and Sadie McKee (1934). So far in this new series we’ve covered Paid (1930). Today . . .

 

Laughing Sinners (1931)

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A Salvation Army preacher saves a troubled girl from suicide. Starring Joan Crawford, Neil Hamilton, Clark Gable, Marjorie Rambeau, Guy Kibbee, Roscoe Karns, and Cliff Edwards. Based on a play by Kenyon Nicholsn. Continuity by Bess Meredyth. Additional dialogue by Edith Fitzgerald. Directed by Harry Beaumont.

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Unlike many Crawford roles, in which she grabs the story by its metaphorical horns and bends it to her (both the character’s and her own personal) will, this one has her functioning via the necessities of the story. In other words, we don’t understand what she’s doing; she does it because the story wants conflict. For instance, her character reunites with her crummy bum of a beau, making her appear a weak-willed sappy victim. The exploration of this could be interesting, if it wasn’t so anti-Crawford — even in her earlier fun-loving incarnation.  I think this is why the film isn’t regarded as highly as her other Pre-Code ventures with Gable, and while this screenplay is written better than most argue, its design of Crawford’s character yields a faulty premise. Thus, I don’t recommend it to everyone — only film buffs, because Crawford and Gable are always magnetic (no one else matters, except maybe Kibbee, who does a fun drunk bit). So for them, it’s worth it.

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