Saturday, November 14, 2009

Letty Lynton

1932, US, directed by Clarence Brown

I must confess that I'd never even heard of Letty Lynton when the (now-unveiled) Siren advised us to pounce on the scratchy version that some kind soul posted to Youtube earlier in the year, and which has since disappeared once again. Letty Lynton is, as the Siren notes, "legendarily unavailable" due to a plagiarism dispute dating back to the 1930s. The resolution of that suit led MGM to withdraw the film from circulation, so goodness only knows what circuitous route the Youtube version travelled over the years. The film was huge in its day, with Joan Crawford's most impressive gown, by Adrian, provoking a boom in dress sales roughly opposite to the way that Clark Gable's unclad appearance in It Happened One Night caused undershirt sales to collapse.

Letty Lynton dates from before the introduction of the Production Code, and as such the themes and resolution are more openly adult than was subsequently to be the case. There's no ambiguity whatsoever in Letty's unmarried relationship at the opening of the film, for instance, while there's little in the way of moral condemnation of her actions either then or later in the action. That, indeed, is what most obviously marks the film as belonging to the pre-Code days. It's also a smartly directed bit of work, moving swiftly from South American club to ocean liner to New York glitz, and the film's climactic scene is brilliantly staged; there's a terrific shot of Joan Crawford as she darts back into the room at the end of the sequence. As I noted in the comments at the Siren's place, it's worth reading David Bordwell on the artistry of 1930s film production in tandem with Letty Lynton and other films of similar vintage, for he highlights the kinds of smart, underplayed artistic choices that were part of the fabric of studio filmmaking at the time.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States