<strong>Margaret Bodde</strong> (The Film Foundation) and <strong>Grover Crisp</strong> (Sony Columbia)
“It is difficult to determine from one viewing what it is all about”, the “New York Times” reviewer wrote on the 4th October 1930, even while clarifying that it was a variation on the “legendary American song” Frankie and Johnnie. But there is nothing really complicated or obscure about Her Man, further proof of the fact that the first talkies produced a slight disorientation in both public and critics alike. The disorientation is so extreme here that the setting of this film, little seen and usually in poor quality copies, is sometimes identified as les bas-fonds of Paris – partly and maybe inadvertently due to Leslie Halliwell, whose blunt dismissal refers to a “French apache setting”. Halliwell does, however, concede that “the film has its adherents”. It’s more than this: the restoration of Her Man has actually salvaged a real gem of the very early sound period. The opening titles instantly attest to its ambition, credits beautifully written in the sand and washed away by the tide. In terms of a ranking of greatness, the name Tay Garnett has an outstanding significance. Her Man is really, in as much as 1930 Hollywood allowed, an auteur film.
A winding long take follows the unstable footsteps of a prostitute marked by too many lost days. At every bend of the way there are sailors, troublemakers and drunks. We are in the port area of a city in the Tropics, perhaps Havana. The sequence shot stops at the door of the dive where the action will be confined; the prostitute leaves the frame to the protagonists. Because this is Garnett’s view of the world – the corner of a port, a steamship, a cargo, a tavern from whose depths a (more or less) gloomily fateful love stands out: William Powell and Kay Francis in One Way Passage, Gable and Harlow in China Seas. The heroine here is Frankie, tough manners and the face of a broken blossom, torn between a dark Latin pimp and a fair passing sailor. Dancing, smoking, pickpocketing, beer and gin drinking that unfailingly results in brawls and comic routines; occasionally a stiletto is thrown, but the frame is so crowded that we only realise that it has hit its target a few minutes later (a less ordinary interpretation of the idea of suspense). And lots of talking. Her Man also offers the touching pleasure of watching and listening to beautiful actors with no tomorrow, now gracefully facing up to the demands of the sound film: Phillips Holmes (who will appear in von Sternberg’s An American Tragedy and Lubitsch’s Broken Lullaby) and Helen Twelvetrees (the little fallen blonde in several films from the early Thirties), both of whom soon vanished from the collective cinematic memory banks.
Cast and Credits
Sog.: Howard Higgin, Tay Garnett. Scen.: Thomas Buckingham. F.: Edward Snyder. M.: Joseph Kane. Scgf.: Carroll Clark. Int.: Helen Twelvetrees (Frankie). Marjorie Rambeau (Annie), Ricardo Cortez (Johnnie), Phillips Holmes (Dan), James Gleason (Steve), Harry Sweet (Eddie), Stanley Fields (Al), Matthew Betz (Red), Thelma Todd (Nelly), Franklin Pangborn (Sport). Prod.: E. B. Derr per Pathé Exchange, Inc. DCP. Bn.
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