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Friday, April 25, 2014

'The Last of Mrs. Cheyney' DVD: Joan Crawford Steals Jewels and Hearts

Last of Mrs. Cheyney, The (1937)
The wonderfully droll Noel Coward feel of the 1937 Joan Crawford film "The Last of Mrs. Cheyney," which Warner Archive released on DVD several weeks ago, distinguishes this movie from the spectacular company that it keeps in the Archive library. As an aside, the 1929 Norma Shearer version of this film is near the top of the Unreal TV to-watch pile and will be the subject of a May 2014 review.

This delightful all-star farce starts with a rather risque "The Love Boat" style maneuver by the titular Cheyney, played by Crawford, during a New York to London ocean voyage. This ruse is the first step of her plan to pull a heist in England that clearly is not her first rodeo.

On arriving in London, Cheyney has her gang pose as household servants to facilitate the nefarious scheme. William Powell of the "The Thin Man" films and numerous other classics and near-classics of the era is perfectly cast as her suave but tough butler/lieutenant/intimate.

An early scene involves a lavish charity event with a clever twist that provides Cheyney suitor Lord Arthur, played by Powell rival in terms of suaveness and toughness Robert Montgomery, a wonderful opportunity for passive-aggressive behavior.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, from the aforementioned charity event provides both a good sense of this film and a preview of the Joan Crawford that fans of "Mommie Dearest" know and love.

Watching Powell and Montgomery square off are some of the best scenes in this exceptional film. As mentioned above, they are well matched in intelligence, determination, and just general testosterone. 

Frank Morgan, who plays the titular character in the uber-classic "The Wizard of Oz," is the "mature" Lord Kelton who believes that he is Arthur's romantic rival but initially is only in the picture (no pun intended) to facilitate the nefarious scheme of Cheyney.

The weekend party at a country estate that provides the setting for the climax of "Cheney" (again, no pun intended) is particularly pure Coward. As a painful (but hilarious) series of reveals demonstrates, the assembled group represents every stereotype of the British upper class and the fact that their respectability is merely a facade.

A terrific scene before the equivalent of a drawing-room confrontation in a British murder mystery has the hostess for the evening make her guests play a hilarious "proper" form of truth-or-dare. This game requires that the person to whom a very personal question is directed either truthfully respond or perform an act known as a "forfeit."

An element of the game that is known by the initials "BS" requires performing the forfeit if it is determined that the provided answer is untrue. The funniest penalty requires that a woman recite the story of George Washington cutting down the cherry tree to everyone she encounters the remainder of the evening.

The goodwill and warmth that Cheyney experiences during that weekend prompts second, third, and fourth thoughts regarding proceeding with the theft. Her impact on the revelers prompts an equally notable (and fall-on-the-floor funny) response by them.

The bottom line regarding all this is that "Cheney" offers amply comedy, drama, romance, and '30s stars to satisfy anyone with even a modicum of interest in films from this era.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Cheyney" is encouraged to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.