Tuesday, November 6, 2012

November 2012 Star of the Month: Constance Bennett

If you don't want to watch a bunch of Election Day coverage (and really, who would want to watch that stuff?), you're in luck. TCM is spending Tuesday nights in November looking at the films of Constance Bennett. Bennett actually started her career in the silent era, although TCM's salute is, I believe, all talkies. The first night of salute includes her early talkies, which means a bunch of fun pre-Code movies, such as The Easiest Way, which you can catch at 11:00 PM.

Bennett plays Laura, a young woman from a lower class family who's a working girl, working as a shop girl in one of those big New York department stores. Being unmarried, she still lives with her family, which includes her parents (Clara Blandick and J. Farrell MacDonald) and her sister Peg (Anita Page). Dad's an alcoholic and depends on the daughters' income to survive, while Peg has a boyfriend in Nick (Clark Gable before he became a star), who works for a laundry and has big dreams of opening his own chain of laundries. Mom and Dad like that idea, but Laura wants love.

Laura's about to have a change of luck, however, when she's discovered by some guys who work for a modeling agency. They give her their business card, and when she models clothes for the big boss Brockton (Adolphe Menjou), she finds that she's good at modeling, and can make good money doing it as well, which could really help out the family. The problem for Laura, though, is that some of the family -- notably Mom and Nick, who by now is Laura's brother-in-law -- think modeling is unrespectable. Well, it's not just that; Laura has also more or less become Brockton's mistress.

Brockton takes Laura on a business trip west, and while leaving Laura with friends in Colorado, Laura meets journalist Jack (Robert Montgomery), and falls in love with him. Indeed, she's even willing to give up the good money she's been making modeling and being Brockton's woman in order to marry Jack. The only thing is, Jack gets called away to an assignment covering a revolution in the Argentine, and Brockton dumps her, leaving her in debt. What's a woman to do? Well, when she eventually stops hearing from Jack, she resigns herself to a life as a kept woman, and returns to Brockton. But you know Jack is going to return for the final reel....

The Easiest Way is an interesting little pre-Code movie, with a surprising number of stars. Bennett is good as a model and nice to look at. Montgomery seems at first a bit miscast as a reporter only because we're probably all well acquainted with all the elegant gentlemanly roles he played. But Montgomery does a good enough job with his role. Menjou, with that moustache, looks like he's perfectly cast to play the creep, and he's quite good here too. Gable doesn't have much to do, but you can already see the qualities that were soon to make him a star.

The Easiest Way should be enjoyable for those who like pre-Codes, and has gotten a release as part of the Warner Archive.

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