Tuesday, November 19, 2013
No Limit (1931)
For Clara Bow the transition from silent movies to talkies was an uneasy period to say the least. By 1933 she had decided to call it a day. Countless explanations have been offered for this premature end to a glittering career, from chronic weight problems to nervousness in front of the microphone to mental illness. In fact her career fadeout had a great deal to do with the sound films she was offered. No Limit is a movie that could kill any star’s career.
Bow plays Helen O’Day (known to all as Bunny), a theatre usherette who is asked by a casual acquaintance to look after after his apartment while he’s at sea working in the merchant marine. Much to Bunny’s surprise the apartment turns out to be more like a palace than an apartment. There’s an even bigger surprise in store for her - the apartment is simply a front for a very high-stakes illegal gambling club. Bunny soon finds herself with a great deal of money but of course there are complications. For one thing, her handsome new boyfriend Doug Thayer (Norman Foster) is really a gangster.
The basic setup could have provided the basis for a breezy romantic comedy but No Limit suffers from a problem that afflicts so many movies of the pre-code era - no-one involved in the project seemed to have the least idea what kind of picture they were trying to make. The movie shuttles back and forth between its romantic comedy plot and its gangster subplot. The sudden changes in mood occur without explanation and without any discernible reason. The problem is made considerably worse by lengthy and totally irrelevant comic relief interludes.
Even worse, the comedy parts of the movie are sadly lacking in laughs while the dramatic sections are equally lacking in drama. It gives the impression of several bad movies spliced together quite randomly.
The only member of the cast with any noticeable comedic skills is Bow herself. In fact she’s the only member of the cast with any acting ability of any variety. Had the movie remained focused on her it might have been bearable but the focus keeps shifting away from her.
Bow gives her rôle everything she’s got but given that her talents lay mostly in the area of comedy she’s far too often left high and dry by the overwhelming dullness of the script. She manages to make Bunny likeable enough but it’s not enough to keep an audience interested.
Director Frank Tuttle’s approach is competent but pedestrian and the pacing is far too slow. The 72-minute running time seems like an eternity.
The art deco sets are fabulous but they are really the only high points in the movie.
Like most of Bow’s talkies No Limit has never been given a decent DVD release. Perhaps that’s understandable in this case in view of the movie’s complete lack of appeal.
Apart from the occasional mildly risque line there’s not much to distinguish this film as an example of pre-code cinema.
Clara Bow completists might be able to endure this movie but anyone else would be well advised to give it a big miss.