Drawing on the talents of cinematographer James Wong Howe and art director Gordon Wiles, Howard takes advantage of a closed shipboard setting to create an amazing array of deep focus effects, climaxing in a chase through the ship’s cavernous engine room.
In Transatlantic, an ocean crossing becomes the premise for an early experiment in multiple story lines, anticipating MGM’s 1932 Grand Hotel. At the center is Edmund Lowe, as a professional thief who allows the greatest haul of his career to slip through his fingers because of an old, unspecified obligation he feels toward his intended victim’s wife (Myrna Loy).
If Transatlantic has not received the attention it merits, it is largely because of its shaky state of preservation: no complete copy of the American release version has survived. This new restoration from the Museum of Modern Art matches the complete English audio track to picture elements derived from the French, Italian and Spanish export versions, yielding a full sense of the film for the first time in 80 years.
A brilliantly produced melodrama wherein all the action occurs on board an ocean liner. William K. Howard, whose cinematic work has often attracted attention, even when the stories of his films were somewhat mediocre, is responsible for this new offering. His imaginative guidance of the fleeting glimpses is most impressive, especially when one ponders over the amount of thought that has to be given to just one minute of this production. The sum total of the kaleidoscopic flashes awakens thoughts of Vicki Baum’s play, Grand Hotel, for the camera darts hither and tither in unfurling the drama in which a heterogeneous group finds its way before the lens. As a story it is not a little vague at times, but, nevertheless, it has its exciting junctures and possesses the further distinction of having a closing sequence in which no matrimonial prospects are held out for the principal characters. In most of the sequences the manipulation of the camera takes precedence over the dialogue and the doings of the various individuals involved in the chronicle.
Mordaunt Hall, “The New York Times”, August 9, 1931
Cast and Credits
T. alt.: Europa. Scen.: Guy Bolton. F.: James Wong Howe. M.: Jack Murray. Scgf.: Gordon Wiles. Mus.: Carli Elinor. Int.: Edmund Lowe (Monty Greer), Lois Moran (Judy Kramer), John Halliday (Henry D. Graham), Greta Nissen (Sigrid Carline), Myrna Loy (Kay Graham), Jean Hersholt (Rudolph ‘Jed’ Kramer), Billy Bevan (Hodgkins). Prod.: Fox Film Corp. DCP 4K. D.: 75’. Bn.
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Dave Kehr (MoMA)