MANSLAUGHTER (1930)

My reaction to this early talkie was to wish it had been re-imagined in the 1940s as a film noir. All the ingredients are there – a spoilt rich girl who lands in jail and a district attorney who falls for her but prosecutes her anyway, and good scenes in court and in a women’s prison.

 

Claudette Colbert, Emma Dunn

Claudette Colbert plays Lydia Thorne,  a rich heiress who lives with her aunt,  Emma Dunn .
Lydia lead a a hedonistic life style which eventually catches up with her.

For most of the movie, Claudette’s character is quite unlikeable, spoilt and selfish. She  drives too fast and bribes highway cops to stop them giving her a penalty. Eventually she is responsible for the death of one of the motor cycle cops in a car chase and is charged with manslaughter.

 

 

Fredric March, Claudette Colbert.

Fredric March plays a hardworking prosecutor who proves Claudette’s guilt, even although he has fallen fo her. Being part of the rich set, Claudette can hardly believe she is going to prison.

Best line in the film comes in the prison setting when Claudette (as Lydia Thorne) meets her former maid, ‘Evans ‘. (No first name).

Claudette is surprised to see her , and the following dialogue expresses so perfectly that they are no longer employer and employee.

Claudette says, “Why, Evans !”  and the maid replies, ‘Why, Thorne.”

( The maid has been convicted of stealing Claudette’s jewels for her boyfriend , and Claudette ( who isn’t too bothered about the theft) was supposed to appear at her trial and support her so the maid would get a shorter sentence. But Claudette  simply forgets about the court date.)

Hilda Vaughan, as ‘Evans’, is only in a few scenes but conveys the character well – a plain looking woman who stole to try and keep her boyfriend from leaving her.

 

The film falls down in the last few minutes when Claudette has a sudden change of heart – throughout the film she  vows vengeance on the lawyer who put  her in jail, and then she realises she really loves him!

 

Fredric March, Claudette Colbert.

Claudette and Fredric are excellent in their respective roles.

I was interested to see that the film’s director was George Abbott  who is best known for all the Broadway musicals he directed (The Pajama Game, What Lola Wants). He did a few films in the period 1929-1931.

The film is stretched out at just under 90 minutes. It could easily have been trimmed by about 20 minutes with better pacing.

 

Natalie Moorhead

Perhaps because of her striking platinum blonde hairstyle, Natalie Moorhead stood out in a small role as a friend of the heiress.

Uncredited as party guests were Bess Flowers, Frances DeeMary Gordon also appears briefly.

Louise Beavers, who would later re-unite with Claudette in “Imitation of Life” , has a small role as one the prison inmates.

 

 

Love this photo advertising the film outside the Kentucky cinema. COME IN! COOL OFF!

The car has a sign, “Advertising van, No.1” and is hauling the van advertising the film – and Westinghouse Electric Company. I imagine it would move from cinema to cinema as the film opened.

9 responses »

      • Great actor all round actually. I was pointed in the direction of one of his later roles last year – Middle of the Night (1959) – where he’s cast opposite Kim Novak, and it’s a wonderfully judged and extraordinarily sensitive piece of work.

      • He’s one of my favourites.
        He never fails to impress, no matter what character he’s playing.

  1. The car in the last photo is a 1930 Buick, and the cinema is in Lexington, KY.
    It opened in 1922, so has its centenary next year (currently it’s closed due to COVID-19).

    1922 was also the year when Cecil B. DeMille’s version of “Manslaughter” was released.
    Four different European versions of the story were all released in 1931.

    • Thanks, Bob. I hadn’t realised this version was a remake of De Mille’s 1922 silent film. Or that Paramount released a Swedish version in 1931. A popular plot!
      Love to hear about a vintage cinema that has survived. Good for the Kentucky. Hope it reopens.

  2. My favourite March titles – Death Takes a Holiday, Nothing Sacred, Best Years….., The Desperate Hours, Executive Suite, Seven Days in May. A career that lasted over 30 years.

  3. It sounds as though it must be Claudette’s least sympathetic role before her image was established. Apart from Sign Of The Cross I can’t think of any other films where she plays a bad character.

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