Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Mandalay (1934, Michael Curtiz)

Released only a few months before the Hays Code began to be enforced, Michael Curtiz' Mandalay (available via the Warner Archive's invaluable Forbidden Hollywood series) contains one of the more stunning "some crimes go unpunished" finishes that I can recall in a pre-Code film.  It also confirms the talents and cool of Kay Francis, which were mostly under-appreciated in her lifetime and largely remain so today (outside of Trouble in Paradise and a few pairings with William Powell).

Property of Nick.
Made at a point when she was still a top box office draw at Warner Bros., Francis plays Tonya Borodoff, sold by her gun-running boyfriend Ricardo Cortez (aka Jacob Krantz) into an upscale brothel in Rangoon, where she is ever-so-subtly referred to as "Spot White" by proprietor Warner Oland and his customer base. Taught the tricks of the trade by an elder madame (Rafaela Ottiano), and thereby gaining the upper hand with her monied male customers, she is able to get away from Nick's place with a sizable savings in her pocket and travel by boat to a place where she will be unknown: Mandalay.  And, this is when Tony (Cortez) re-enters the picture...

While not an exceptional work in Curtiz or Francis' extensive oeuvres, it does offer the aforementioned delicious, proto-EC Comics ending, something out of a Tales From the Crypt story, but about 15 years ahead of the curve.

Pre-Code mainstay Lyle Talbot, here essaying "good man tormented by his past."
Knowing a little something about Francis' career and offscreen life--her diaries reveal she was gay, or at the very least bisexual, and that she had no desire to be remembered after her death--Tonya's quest to get paid and get away from her past becomes more resonant.

Property of Tony.
"My life?  Well, I get up at a quarter to six in the morning if I'm going to wear an evening dress on camera.  That sentence sounds a little ga-ga, doesn't it?  But never mind, that's my life...As long as they pay me my salary, they can give me a broom and I'll sweep the stage.  I don't give a damn.  I want the money...When I die, I want to be cremated so that no sign of my existence is left on this earth.  I can't wait to be forgotten." - Kay Francis, private diaries circa 1938.

One of those "up at a quarter to six" mornings.

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