Monday, April 7, 2008

A Notorious Affair directed by Lloyd Bacon (starring Kay Francis, Billie Dove, Basil Rathbone)

A Notorious Affair (1930). Screenplay/adaptation by J. Grubb Alexander from the play Fame by Audrey Carter and Waverly Carter. Features music by Felix Mendelssohn (both his violin concerto and "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing").

When heiress Patricia Hanley (Billie Dove) marries (below her station — and without permission!) up-and-coming Italian violinist Paul Gherardi (Basil Rathbone), she immediately loses access to her father, her rich friends, and her fortune. But success comes quickly to Gherardi, and with success comes cockiness. Gherardi begins an affair with one of the people he met at Patricia's home, the countess Olga Balakireff (Kay Francis).

In fact, the Gherardis' relationship breaks down so quickly that it's actually kind of funny. His wife practically steps aside as he and the countess spend more and more time together. (But when her opportunity comes with a doctor friend, watch how he gets in her way!)

From her very first scene, Francis's character's way with men is established, as she practically forces her way onto the hired help — really turning on the panther charm. This is actually a continuing thread throughout the movie, giving very little depth to an otherwise uninteresting character (with an awfully unfetching hairstyle).

Fans who only know Rathbone from his series of Sherlock Holmes films will be surprised to find him so young and very much the leading man. But he soon overdoes it, from his accent to his delivery (he could have been in Top Hat).

There's not much to recommend A Notorious Affair. This little potboiler definitely belongs to Dove — a silent star in her first talkie — though Francis steals every scene she's in as the insatiable maneater. And after all the back and forth suffering from affair to affair, the "happy" ending is just confusing.

(Watch for Gino Corrado in a rare non-waiter role as Rathbone's piano accompanist.)

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