Becky Sharp (1935)

Becky Sharp (1935), directed by Rouben Mamoulian.

I review this one because of its historical interest: the first 3-strip Technicolor feature film, nearly lost at one point but available now after extensive, multi-decade restoration efforts.

The story is a condensed Vanity Fair: around the time of the Napoleonic Wars an amoral social climber causes havoc to all around her. She finds a soul-mate in Rawdon Crawley, an army officer as irresponsible as she.

In the book she finally does him too much wrong: when he is confined overnight for debt (in more like a B&B than a prison) rather than bail him out she leaves him there so she can spend the night with a lecherous aristocrat. And that is the end of them. The movie softens that scene a little: we're in the Code era now.

As a film it is stagey and set-bound but the costumes are brilliant, showing off the new color technology. Reviews at the time said the same: dramatically slack but technically impressive.

We have a look at the Duchess of Richmond's ball on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo. One of the most famous parties in history, it was actually held in a vast barn, not a mansion as shown.

Not long ago I had never heard of Miriam Hopkins but have now seen her in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), Trouble in Paradise (1932), Design for Living (1933), Barbary Coast (1935) and The Chase (1966).

A good part for Alan Mowbray as her husband; usually he got lightly comic supporting roles.

Frances Dee, playing the "good girl" Amelia, was the lead in Val Lewton's I Walked with a Zombie (1943).

Available on Blu-ray from Kino. The commentary track by Jack Theakston is a meticulous essay on the production of this film as well as the history of color cinematography.