Indiscreet (Leo McCarey / U.S., 1931):

Though the stagnant medium shots and extended takes make it look like 1927 is being ushered in the New Year's Eve opening, Leo McCarey blows out the cobwebs with a steady flow of comic interaction. Tuxedoed smoothie Monroe Owsley escorts Gloria Swanson home, she plucks a blond hair from his lapel; "That's not like you," he protests, "Yeah, I'm a brunette" is her reply. (He's shown the door and called back, only to be handed his golf clubs -- the celebratory crowds outside cheer for her.) Swanson is a "modern girl with an old-fashioned conscience," elated by her love for novelist Ben Lyon she kicks a sponge like a football in the shower and, arranged like a mermaid in front of the camera-as-mirror, offers up a song ("What good is this, that or the other... if you haven't got love"). Lyon is proud of following freewheeling impulses, yet his beloved's tarnished-lady past gives him pause, and the space separating them in a static two-shot as their relationship momentarily wobbles slashes far deeper than all the "cinematic" flea-hopping in The Front Page that same year. The heroine's little sister (Barbara Kent) returns from Oklahoma with the cad she dumped in the first reel, yet any potential dreariness readily dissipates in the air -- McCarey senses the plot's human zaniness and coaxes it out of the creaky melodrama slowly, slyly, like Stan and Ollie sneaking out for a poker game. It all climaxes al fresco at Owsley's aristo estate, where the heroine foils Kent's unwise engagement by splendidly playing to the potential in-laws the "insanity" said to run in her clan, the screwball groundwork for The Awful Truth is soundly erected, and Swanson the shimmering Jazz-Age comedienne is brought triumphantly into the Thirties. With Arthur Lake, Maude Eburn, Henry Koller, and Nella Walker. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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