Monday, August 13, 2012
The Crash (1932)
The Crash is a cynical little pre-code romance enlivened by some energetic performances. It’s not quite a top-tier pre-code movie but it’s worth a look.
Geoffrey Gault (George Brent) is a New York City stockbroker, married to Linda (Ruth Chatterton. Geoffrey is in love with Linda in his own way but he has no scruples about using her to further his business. Linda is very much in love with Geoffrey’s money. That’s not to say that she isn’t fond of him, but she is more fond of money than anything else in life. Linda grew up in poverty and she is horrified by it. As she freely admits, it scares her.
They’re doing pretty well. Geoffrey’s success as a stockbroker is based on inside knowledge, knowledge that Linda obtains for him. She gets this information by using her charms. How far she actually goes to obtain the information is left to our imagination but we can be quite certain than neither Geoffrey nor Linda are constrained by any considerations of morality. And Linda gets bored easily and she likes men. We can be fairly sure that sometimes she employs her charms even when there’s no information to be had.
They’re happy in their own way. They’re rich, and that’s their way of being happy.
Then comes the stock market crash. When the first rumblings of trouble are heard Geoffrey asks Linda to get the inside dope from John Fair. He’s the man who would know if there was any likelihood that the market was really going to go bad. Fair has been pursuing Linda for years and he’s become weary of the fruitless pursuit and this time he won’t play ball unless Linda can offer him something to make it worth her while, which she refuses to do. When Geoffrey asks her what she’s found out she’s not in a very good mood and doesn’t want to admit that she’s failed so she tells him the market is fine.
This will have devastating consequences, and not just for Geoffrey and Linda. The next day the market crashes and by lunchtime Geoffrey is wiped out. And so are all their servants - they’ve all been making use of Linda’s information as well to play the market.
The stock market crash is just too awful and too tedious for Linda to bear so she begs Geoffrey for some money (which is in fact virtually all the money he has left) so she can get away from all this unpleasantness. She sails for Bermuda.
In Bermuda she meets an Englishman named Ronnie Sanderson (Paul Cavanagh). He has a sheep station in Australia. Linda finds the idea of sheep almost as horrible as the idea of Australia but on the other hand Ronnie does have money. And Geoffrey has none. She can’t possibly be expected to live without money. Ronnie is a nice enough fellow, she becomes quite fond of him, and he does have money. When he suggests that she should divorce Geoffrey and marry him, well really what can she do? If Geoffrey has been inconsiderate enough to lose all his money that’s hardly her fault.
Linda is still not completely broke. She still has her pearls and they cost Geoffrey $90,000. At least she had her pearls until her maid Celeste stole them to get her boyfriend out of prison. He’s been embezzling money to try to recoup the losses he made on the stock market following Linda’s phony tip from John Fair. Linda doesn’t have the heart to hand Celeste over to the police so now she’s really broke. Things are so desperate than when she returns to New York she is forced to make the ultimate sacrifice. She gets a job. But there’s still that offer from Ronnie Sanderson and maybe she could learn to like Australia. Maybe she could even learn to like sheep.
Linda is a pretty appalling character, entirely without morals. It’s not that she’s incapable of love. She loves money very much indeed. It’s just never occurred to her that there might be anything else worth loving. Ruth Chatterton manages to make us almost like Linda. She’s so brazen about her selfishness, and so unapologetic about it, that we almost admire her. Chatterton approaches the role with whole-hearted enthusiasm.
George Brent manages to do something similar with the role of Geoffrey. Geoffrey is pathetic and despicable but he has a certain breezy boyish charm about it.
The supporting cast is solid, with Henry Kolker’s turn as John Fair being particularly good.
This is cynicism done with enough style and with a sufficiently light touch to make it fun. The movie wants us to be appalled by these two people but it wants us to like them as well. They’re really just spoilt children who have been able to avoid growing up. Their money sheltered them for years from confronting anything as tiresome as real emotions or real responsibility. When they do have to confront such things it comes as something for which they are entirely unprepared. Now they’re faced by a stark choice - whether to continue their childish existences or to grow up.
At 58 minutes this is a very short movie even by early 30s standards but director William Dieterle keeps things moving along so briskly that he has more than enough time to accommodate what is in truth a fairly sketchy plot.
The sheer cynicism on which Geoffrey and Linda’s marriage is based marks this as being very much in typical pre-code territory.
The movie approaches the stock market crash in such a whimsical manner as to be almost shocking. The scene in which the servants are queued up desperately trying to telephone their brokers is a nicely sardonic touch.
This movie is paired with Registered Nurse on one made-on-demand disc from the Warner Archive series. The print of The Crash is mostly excellent with just a few minor flaws that can be easily overlooked.
An amusing and diverting little movie that pre-code fans should enjoy. Recommended.