Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! This week, we’re celebrating the anniversary of my birth — and Joan Crawford’s — by honoring the latter, and specifically, her work in an unfortunately seldom-seen film. It’s Letty Lynton (1932), one of the iconic star’s most notorious Pre-Code efforts, first featured here way back in this blog’s infancy.
If you’ve never seen Letty Lynton, you’re not alone — the film is never shown on TCM, and it hasn’t been commercially released in any capacity after the 1930s, following a Federal District Court’s ruling that the script borrowed heavily, without permission, from a play called Dishonored Lady (which itself was adapted for the big screen several times). This sparked a drawn-out series of legal battles that ended with M-G-M granting the infringed-upon parties a major payday and the film being permanently buried. Placed under lock and key like so many other Pre-Code gems, its mystery then grew — exacerbated, in part, by the legend of the “Letty Lynton dress,” a famous gown designed by Adrian and worn by Crawford in both the picture and publicity stills. Allegedly, the look became so popular that it created a mini-fashion trend: puffy sleeves.
As for the film, it has routinely popped up in collectors’ circles since the internet era, and I screened it for this blog in 2013. Back then, I was thrilled with some of the Pre-Code elements that were indeed as prurient as rumors suggested, including its plot about a woman who kills a blackmailing former lover to keep him from blabbing about her salacious past, and I found Crawford’s performance mostly great (save a couple of moments). With hindsight, I would say the film is a typical soap opera from this era, with its value upheld largely by the story beats that would have made it too scandalous to produce only a few years later. But don’t just take my word for it. For the next week, I’m offering subscribers — who comment below to alert me of their educational, private, and non-commercial interest in this piece of cinematic history — access to Letty Lynton, one of Crawford’s most successful films from the Pre-Code era and a rich display of her appeal as a major motion picture star. Here’s an excerpt.
Come back next week for a new Wildcard! And stay tuned Tuesday for Roseanne!