Sunday, November 21, 2010
Talented but temperamental actress Miriam Hopkins had the reputation of stealing scenes and chewing scenery throughout her prominent career. Her earliest days onscreen were no exception and as a bright and shiny new star at Paramount in the early 1930’s, she did not hide her light under a bushel. Making her film debut in 1930 in Fast and Loose with fellow Paramount pretty Carole Lombard ( Lombard had been in films for over half a decade by then), she had a hit in her second feature The Smiling Lieutenant (1931) co-starring movie novice Claudette Colbert. By her third film, she was the sure fire star of the show, even though Clive Brook and Kay Francis were billed above her. The film was called 24 Hours, and it was a prime example of pre-Code Paramount, with a great line-up of actors to boot.
Jim and Fanny Towner (Brook and Francis) are a wealthy yet bored couple who are each involved in an extramarital affair. Jim’s alcoholism doesn’t help the problem and he finds solace with his paramour Rosie Duggan (Hopkins), a brassy speak easy singer, who is married to a weak and neurotic small time hoodlum named Tony (Regis Toomey, whose 40 year screen career began the year before this film was made). Tony is on the skids after his wife has the bouncer at the club where she works, toss him out on his keyster. Later that evening, she carries the falling down drunk Jim home with her to see that he sleeps off his buzz. When Tony comes aknockin’ in the middle of the night, crazed look in his eyes, he accidentally kills the two-timing torch singer, while her sugar daddy is passed out in the other room. He beats it when he realizes what he’s done, as does Jim when he awakes the next morning and realizes he could be blamed for the chanteuse’s demise.
As much as a dramatic showcase 24 Hours is for Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis has the tougher job of giving a more subtle yet still effective performance. To an extent she succeeds, but her character is written so that she has little more to do than look forlorn about the lack of love in both her marriage as well as her affair. Her dramatic glory days would come with her tenure at Warner Brothers a few years later, a working relationship that was both extremely profitable as well as turbulent for the raven haired star. British born Clive Brook worked in silent films for years and made the transition to sound successfully. He looks rather bored in the first half of this film, but I suppose that is his job, as he is bored with his life AND his wife. (Brook made a telling statement about his profession in America when he said: "Hollywood is a chain gang and we lose the will to escape. The links of the chain are not forged with cruelties but with luxuries."). Although given a small role, veteran stage actress Lucille LaVerne gives the audience a visual once-over as Tony’s slovenly and tough-as-nails landlady. I recognized immediately her voice as that of the old hag in Walt Disney’s animated masterpiece Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). It was the last performance of her very lengthy career, and the one for which she is most associated, as the animators actually used the actress as a visual model for the crone.
Based on the novel Twenty-Four Hours by Louis Bromfield, the film is a lost gem, a part of Paramount’s film library, owned by Universal/MCA, most of which are unreleased to the general public. Copies aren’t easy to find and when they are, the quality sometimes has much to be desired, but if you do get a chance to gander the charms of the young Mesdames Hopkins and Francis, I’d jump at it.