James Whale

Sog.: dal romanzo The Hangover Murders di Adam Hobhouse. Scen.: Harry Clork, Doris Malloy, Dan Totheroh, Murray Roth. F.: Joseph Valentine. M.: Ted Kent. Scgf.: Charles D. Hall. Mus.: Franz Waxman. Int.: Edward Arnold (Danny Harrison), Robert Young (Tony Milburn), Constance Cummings (Carlotta, sua moglie), George Meeker (Vic Huling), Sally Eilers (Bette, sua moglie), Reginald Denny (Jake Whitridge), Louise Henry (Penny, sua moglie), Arthur Treacher (il maggiordomo), Gustav von Seyffertitz (prof. Karl Jones). Prod.: Carl Leammle Jr. per Universal Pictures Corp.. 35mm. D.: 81’.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

James Whale followed The Bride of Frankenstein with this equally mordant black comedy, although the sympathy he found for Boris Karloff’s lonely monster finds no equivalent in the director’s attitude toward his characters here, a group of aggressively alcoholic New York socialites who awake after a wild bash to find a corpse among their number, and no memory of how the murder (or anything else) occurred. Whale seems to be deliberately deconstructing The Thin Man, offering another cocktail-swilling, crime-solving couple (Robert Young and Constance Cummings), though they never seem quite as delightful to the audience as they do to each other. Casually racist, openly contemptuous of their servants (it is perhaps the British butler played by Arthur Treacher who represents Whale’s point of view, muttering sarcastic asides as soon as his employers turn their backs on him), and appallingly self-involved, Young, Cummings and their friends (among them Reginald Denny, one of Universal’s biggest stars of the 1920s, returning to his old studio in a character part) seem like caricatures of capitalist decadence. As “The New York Times” reviewer wrote, “Probably it was not the intention of Universal Pictures to offer the photoplay as an argument on behalf of temperance, but the halfwit behavior of the roisterers in the film should commend itself to the W.C.T.U. as an example of the horrors of drink”.
The film is dominated by a gigantic set representing the Long Island weekend home of the central couple, a mansion that seems to rival the Radio City Music Hall both in scale and its superb Art Deco design. Whale makes his characteristic careful use of the set’s interconnected spaces, with his camera gliding through walls as it follows the actors from room to room and between floors. When Gustav von Seyffertitz turns up as a hypnotist – his skills will be needed to pry memories from the characters’ befogged brains – Whale slips into witty self-parody, with a swirl of shadows and canted camera angles that evokes the gothic style of Frankenstein.

Dave Kehr

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