Sunday, February 4, 2024

Ex-rich guy meets never-rich girl, vol. the umpteenth

Barbara Stanwyck was another of the people given a day in Summer Under the Stars this past August, and among the movies of hers that I hadn't seen before was a 1935 movie called The Woman in Red, not to be confused with other movies of the same title. Now that I've watched it, I can give you the review on it here.

This is one of those mid-1930s Warner Bros. programmers where the studio would routinely conclude the opening credits with brief head shots of each of the main charactes with the star's name and character wich is always a good way to put actors' names to faces. Stanwyck plays Shelby Barret, and and the beginning of the movie she's at the San Hernando Horse Show. But it's in a working capacity as she rides show horses for her boss, the wealthy widow Mrs. Nicholas (Genevieve Tobin), nicknamed Nicko. Nicko comes from old money, and showing horses from new money is Gene Fairchild (John Eldredge), who you get the feeling has a sort of thing for Shelby, except that he really wants to get into high society.

Accompanying Nicko, but riding her polo ponies instead of the show horses is Johnny Wyatt (Gene Raymond). He comes from old money; in fact, his extended family, the Wyatts, live back east on Long Island in a town named after them, Wyattville, this being the days before World War II whan Long Island was not yet suburbs halfway into Suffolk County. But they're living on past glory, and Nicko has Johnny riding her horses more because she sees him as a kept man.

Johnny, meanwhile, finds himself falling for Shelby almost from the moment he meets her, although the feeling isn't quite mutual at first. But he desides to ask her to marry him and take her back to meet his family on Long Island. They, thinking they're from old money and want to stay that way, are highly displeased with the idea of Johnny having married someone like Shelby. They go off to another of the family's residences, although it's one that needs a lot of repairs. The two also get the idea to start a business of a stable for other rich people's horses, but they need the seed capital to start the business.

And who should show up with the possibility of that capital but Fairchild and his yacht. Shelby wants it to be business and borrow the money from Fairchild as a real loan, but Fairchild still has feelings for her. So he invites her aboard his yacht, in part to help him secure another business deal while Johnny is away on business of his own. The only thing is, Fairchild's client brings a chorus girl along, making things look a lot more suspect than they would have been Johnny had accompanied Shelby. Worse is that the chorus girl gets drunk and falls overboard to her death a la Natalie Wood. And then Nicko, who is also a gossipy blankety-blank, was also at the dock seeing Shelby get on the tender to Fairchild's yacht. Fairchild is accused of killing Olga, but only Shelby can save him, and for her to do that might destroy her marriage to Johnny. His family are also worried about the family name.

The Woman in Red is the sort of Depression-era nonsense that you can't really believe could have happened in real life, but the sort of look at the wealthy that you can imagine audiences of the day loving. It's also material that feels like it's been done in a whole lot of othe movies of the era. In later years, there would be a slew of screwball comedies to do it, but in the first half of the 1930s it was a lot of dramas.

Still, Barbara Stanwyck is ever the professional and makes the material work, and even if she wound up in something lousy the movie would still be worth watching just for her. So definitely give The Woman in Red a chance.

No comments: