Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Gorgeous Hussy

A search of the blog suggests that I have never mentioned the movie The Gorgeous Hussy before. It's showing tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM on TCM, so now's a good time to mention it.

Based on a true story, Joan Crawford plays what is supposed to be the title role; presumably, "hussy" meant something different back in the 1820s. Here, she's Peggy O'Neal, the daughter of an innkeeper in the Washington DC area (played by Gene Lockhart). She marries Navy Lieutenant Bow Timberlake (Robert Taylor), but he gets sent to sea. (Not that this should be a surprise; after all, that's the point of the Navy.) While at sea, he dies, leaving Peggy a widow. That's bad for her, but not so bad for Senator John Eaton from Tennessee (played by Franchot Tone). In real life, he may or may not have had a thing for Peggy while she was married to Lt. Timberlake. But now, with her being a widow, there's no such problem. Instead, the only problem is with Virginia Senator Randolph (Melvyn Douglas), who is also somewhat interested in Peggy. Peggy prefers Eaton because he doesn't go on as much about "states' rights" as Randolph does, and winds up marrying Eaton.

For whatever reason, this is a problem for a lot of people. Andrew Jackson (played by Lionel Barrymore, who I think is really miscast here) is the new President, and selects Seantor Eaton to be his Secretary of War. Several of the other Cabinet Wives don't like this, and give Peggy the silent treatment. Jackson has sympathy for Peggy, who in her defense really hasn't done anything wrong, or at least nothing to deserve the treatment she's getting from the other wives. The thing is, he too had a wife who caused scandal just by being his wife. (This is covered in the movie The President's Lady, although I don't believe that's available on DVD.) Rachel Jackson (played by Beulah Bondi) died in between the election fo 1828 and Jackson's inauguration, so it's understandable why Jackson would have the feelings he does. Eventually, Jackson was forced to shuffle his cabinet and send Eaton to Spain as ambassador, at least according to the movie. (In real life, Eaton was only named ambassador five years after the cabinet reshuffle.)

Historical dramas in the studio era can be problematic if they're based on real events. The studios really glossed over things while taking obvious sides. Also, a lot of the actresses were much too glamorous to look like people from the olden days. (Pioneer women in particular aged badly, due to all that hard work.) Bondi is the only one who fits; Rachel Robards Jackson was 61 when she died while Bondi's craggy face made her look old enough to play mothers to a lot of actors who weren't that much different to her age in real life. (Bondi would have been about 45 when she made this.) Crawford looks like she belongs in the 19th century about as much as Bette Davis does in Jezebel. So you have to overlook some things when watching these movies based on real history. In that regard, I don't think The Gorgeous Hussy is bad at all.

The Gorgeous Hussy has gotten a release on the Warner Archive.

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