Tallulah Bankhead

What’s on TCM: January 2014

Joan CrawfordHappy new year!  I hope you all had a very happy holiday season. I had a lot of fun revisiting all my favorite holiday movies in December, but now it’s time to get back to watching more regular movies and luckily, TCM is going to make that transition very easy for me.

Break out the shoulder pads, eyebrow pencils, and Pepsi because Joan Crawford is the Star of the Month!  A marathon of Joan Crawford movies will start every Thursday night at 8:00 PM and each week will focus on a different era of Joan’s career.

This month’s installment of Friday Night Spotlight will feature Science in the Movies and is going to be hosted by Dr. Sean Michael Carroll, PhD, a senior research associate at the California Institute of Technology’s Physics department.

Other noteworthy things happening in January include Judge Judy as Guest Programmer, a celebration of past and present recipients of the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, and 24 hours of movies by Columbia Pictures to commemorate the studio’s 90th anniversary.  Now, let’s take a more detailed look at the line-up…


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.

Faithless (1932)

Before the stock market crash of 1929, Carol Morgan (Tallulah Bankhead) was living the high life as the daughter of a successful banker.  But when the stock market crashes, Carol refuses to scale down her extravagant lifestyle and is in complete denial that things could get tough for her, too.  Her accountants try to warn her, but she won’t listen to them and goes about living her life as usual.  Her boyfriend Bill Wade (Robert Montgomery) works in advertising and prefers living a much more modest lifestyle.  Carol is very much in love with him, but he’s hesitant to get married because he doesn’t want people to assume he married her for her money.  Although they briefly get engaged, Carol ultimately can’t deal with being married to someone who only makes $20,000 a year and their engagement is called off.

When Carol finally faces the fact that she has lost everything, she goes back to Bill and finds things aren’t so great for him, either.  He’s just lost his job and although he has a lead on another one in Chicago, Carol decides she’d rather live off the hospitality of her still wealthy friends rather than marry Bill.  Bill does get his job in Chicago and Carol travels all over the country, staying as long as her friends will put up with her.  Eventually, she makes her way to Chicago and stays with Mr. and Mrs. Peter M. Blainey.  Mrs. Blainey is willing to pay Carol $1,500 for giving them the privilege of being able to use her name to get into the society pages, but throws her out when she catches Carol borrowing money from her friends.  Carol packs her things, but before she can leave, Mr. Blainey (Hugh Herby) offers her $1,000.  He says there are no strings attached, but the strings come later and before she knows it, she’s his mistress.

Carol absolutely loathes Blainey, but she doesn’t have any other options.  One night, she is pleasantly surprised when Bill finally tracks her down and drops by.  But her happiness is short lived when Bill figures out what’s going on and leaves.  No longer to put up with Blainey, she leaves him and tries to find a job, but has no luck since she has no marketable skills or experience.  Her luck starts to turn around when she runs into Bill again one night.  He’s found a job as a truck driver and the two of them decide to get married on the spot.  Even though he soon loses that job, he gets another one, but is injured in an accident.  Now Carol has to get money for medicine and has no other choice but to turn to prostitution.  Unfortunately, she makes the mistake of trying to pick up Bill’s brother Tony and he turns her into the police.  The officer takes pity on her when she vows to never do it again and gets her a job as a waitress.  She hadn’t been ready to tell Bill about how she earned the money for his medicine, but is forced to confront the issue when Tony breaks the news to Bill for her.

Faithless isn’t a terribly remarkable movie, but it is enjoyable enough.  Tallulah was pretty good in it, especially in the beginning when her character still thinks she’s rich.  She totally owned her character’s awful attitude in the beginning of the movie, but when her character is totally desperate in the end, she didn’t quite go into that part with the same zeal she did earlier.  Robert Montgomery was more consistently good, though.  It’s no must see movie, but if you do have an interest in Tallulah Bankhead, I’d recommend checking it out anyway.  She was mainly a theatrical actress and didn’t make very many movies, so it’s nice to get to see her in action.