Monday, November 9, 2009

Myrna Loy, ingrateful you-know-what

Today marks the 141st anniversary of the birth of actress Marie Dressler, and TCM is marking the occasion by showing a bunch of her movies all morning and afternoon. Dressler won an Oscar for her role in the movie Min and Bill, and TCM is showing that today at 3:00 PM ET. A Dressler movie I haven't recommended before is Emma, which TCM is showing at 6:45 PM this evening.

Not based on the Jane Austen story of the same name, the Emma has Dressler playing the title character, a nanny to a wealthy inventor (Jean Hersholt) and his wife. She ends up becoming mother to all four children when the mother dies during childbirth of the fourth kid. Despite Emma's best intentions, the three older kids grow up to be spoiled, ingrateful brats, including a relatively young Loy, a few years before she became a star. The youngest loves Emma to no end, and decides to become a bush pilot when he grows up.

Freed of having to take care of the children, Emma finally gets the chance to go on vacation, and her boss accompanies her. Having worked together for 20 years, he's fallen in love with her, and decides to propose to her. It's a happy, but brief, marriage: husband dies on the honeymoon because he's had a bad heart for years. And the unhappiness is really only just beginning, as he left Emma to be the executrix of the estate, realizing that the kids would just squander the money. They, being insanely jealous, want the will broken, but when they discover that this is impossible, they decide it's easier to have Emma put on trial for murdering their father! The only one who can save her is the youngest kid, but will he be able to get home from the wilds of Canada in time...?

Emma is one of the many melodramatic movies that were common in the early 1930s, designed to appeal to the female demographic. It might feel dated and creaky today (and the ending is something that has to be seen to be believed), but was apparently quite popular back in the day. Dressler gives a good performance, and was nominated for an Oscar for the second year running, this being a year after Min and Bill. However, she lost to a similar "women's movie", that being Helen Hayes' performance in The Sin of Madelon Claudet (which is reminiscent to any of the dozen or so versions of Madame X).

Emma is available as part of TCM's Warner Archives Collection on DVD, which means that it's more expensive, and you won't find it at Amazon.

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