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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Virtue (1932) - Terrific Romantic Gem

Carole Lombard, for my money, was the top female star of the 1930s. She lit up the screen with her earthy ways. No prissy girl here - she played real women you might see down at the corner store or in the market. When she wanted something, she went and got it. Raw emotion, on display without reservation. All that, and a stunning beauty to boot. Well, on second thought you might not see that at the corner store too often....

In "Virtue," Lombard plays a former woman of the streets - ahem - who falls for a cabdriver played by Pat O'Brien. The plot would have been impossible after the Hayes Code came into effect a couple of years later, so this is a rare treat indeed. That Lombard was a streetwalker is really just there to show that she is street-wise and nobody's fool. Which she proves over and over.

It was a tough task for anyone to keep up with Lombard, but here, O'Brien manages to hold his own in a rare turn as a romantic lead. The best scenes in the film are their squabbles over breakfast, with the kind of snappy patter that didn't escape the 1930s. At times, one almost expects O'Brien to smash a grapefruit in her face - but that was a different film with other actors. Though Lombard might have found such a scene a hoot to play.

Anyway, as is usually the case with Lombard's films, the plot is just an excuse to allow her to emote and chew the scenery with gusto. It follows the standard plot in early Lombard films, boy hates girl, girl wins boy, boy loses girl.... Favorite scenes are Lombard slapping Shirley Grey, who owes her money, silly, and the ending shot which, to me at least, is simply brilliant and wonderfully real.

There are complications thrown in along the way, and a terrific double cross to resolve the usual pesky legal complication. However, "Virtue" really is just a treat for Lombard fans who want to see her at the top of her game. Catch it when you can, it's well worth your time.

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