Harvey Stephens

Evelyn Prentice (1934)

Evelyn Prentice Myrna Loy William PowellEvelyn Prentice (Myrna Loy) adores her husband John (William Powell), but John is an attorney and often has to work long hours and travel for work.  Lately, he’s been hard at work defending Mrs. Harrison (Rosalind Russell) and Evelyn really misses spending time with her husband.  One night, she goes to a nightclub with her friend Amy (Una Merkel) and meets a man named Lawrence Kennard (Harvey Stephens), who claims to know her from somewhere.

Lawrence doesn’t actually know Evelyn, but he knows she’s married to a prominent attorney and plans to trap her in a scandal and blackmail her.  The next day, he sends Evelyn a book of his poetry and invites her to tea.  Evelyn isn’t at all impressed by Lawrence, but she’s feeling lonely with John out of town so when Amy accepts his invitation on her behalf, she meets with him.  She continues seeing him while John is away, but after John returns, she begins to suspect that he has been having an affair with Mrs. Harrison.  A heartbroken Evelyn goes to see Lawrence again, but ultimately decides to stay true to John and tries to end things off with Lawrence.

Lawrence isn’t about to let Evelyn get off that easily, though.  He reminds her of some letters she had written to him and demands $15,000 for them.  During the dispute, Evelyn shoots Lawrence with his own gun and leaves.  The next day, news of his murder is all over the front page, but nobody suspects Evelyn.  However, Lawrence’s other girlfriend Judith (Isabel Jewell) is considered the top suspect.  John agrees to defend Judith and during the trial, Evelyn’s guilt eats away at her.  Near the end of the trial, Evelyn tries to come clean about the whole thing.  But fortunately for them, John has a plan to get both Evelyn and Judith off the hook.

Movies with William Powell and Myrna Loy are always a hit with me.  Although it’s much more fun to watch them playing happily married couples in more lighthearted movies, Evelyn Prentice is still a darn good movie.  It’s very smartly written and well acted.  Myrna Loy did an excellent job of conveying the guilt Evelyn was feeling and Isabel Jewell and Una Merkel were both great in their supporting roles.  It’s another one of those wonderful underrated gems that I just love finding.

The Cheat (1931)

If there’s one thing Elsa Carlyle (Tallulah Bankhead) can’t resist, it’s gambling. One night, she finds herself $5,000  in the hole and doesn’t have the money to pay it so she makes one last bet for the night. She and the casino owner each draw a card and if she draws the highest one, she doesn’t have to pay.  But if the owner gets the high card, she has to pay $10,000.  Naturally, she ends up owing $10,000.

After she steps outside to get some air, she’s joined by Hardy Livingstone (Irving Pichel), who invites her to go see his house. She goes with him, but it immediately becomes clear that he has a sinister side. He shows her a cabinet full of dolls he’s had made to look like former girlfriends and branded with his personal crest so he feels like he owns them. He also pressures her to let him give her a very valuable gown once owned by a princess to wear to a charity ball. Elsa is smart enough to know that something isn’t right there and leaves.

Elsa is married to Jeffrey (Harvey Stephens), a stockbroker who, at the moment, is just barely breaking even so she can’t bring herself to ask him for the money. But when she overhears one of Jeffrey’s friends tell him about a very good stock tip, she takes the money she was entrusted with for the charity ball and puts all of it on that tip. Confident that her money woes are behind her, she’s in such a good mood that she decides to take Livingstone up on his offer of that dress.

On the night of the ball, Elsa is having a wonderful time and Livingstone’s gown is a sensation, even though Jeffrey very highly disapproves of her having anything to do with Livingstone. But then Elsa gets the fateful phone call from her stockbroker saying that she’s lost all her money. Livingstone overhears the conversation and offers her the money, but on the condition that she come visit him and that she be nice to him. Not having any other options, she accepts.

But just before she’s going to see him for the first time, a deal Jeffery had been working on finally comes through and they are suddenly very wealthy. Elsa brings a check to Livingstone for the money he gave her, hoping he’d forget the whole thing. But he isn’t willing to let her go that easily and brands her like one of his dolls. Elsa grabs a nearby gun, shoots him, and runs. What she doesn’t realize is that Jeffrey had followed her to Livingstone’s and he decides to take the fall for her.

I quite liked The Cheat.  The story is engaging and nicely paced and Tallulah Bankhead gives a very good performance.  As far as pre-codes go, this one is a bit tame compared to some of the others out there, but it’s still pretty likeable. This is a remake of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Cheat from 1915, which I haven’t seen, but I’d really like to because I can definitely see where DeMille’s style would have lent itself well to the story.