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Sunday, June 8, 2014

'The Last of Mrs. Cheney' DVD: Norma Shearer Version of a Classic

Last of Mrs. Cheyney, The
The Warner Archive DVD release of the 1929 Norma Shearer version of the film "The Last of Mrs. Cheyney" provides a good chance to compare it with the previously reviewed more comedic 1937 version starring Joan Crawford. As an aside, the musings regarding the Crawford version is part of a trilogy of reviews of her films.

A very cool parallel between the two versions is that future Sherlock Holmes portrayor Basil Rathbone stars as aristocratic playboy Lord Arthur Dilling in the Shearer version and Rathbone's co-star in that film series Nigel Bruce stars in the Crawford version.

The titular character in the "Cheney" films is a beautiful thief who uses her attractiveness and charm to gain access to the homes of the rich and famous for the purpose of a heist. The current caper revolves around a planned theft of a necklace during a weekend house party at the country home that belongs to the aunt of Dilling.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of a scene from the Shearer version offers a glimpse of her performance and one aspect of the style of the film. The expert use of shadows alone is a nice reminder of the awesomeness of black-and-white flicks.

The wrinkle that develops is that the one-sided affection that Dilling feels for Cheney becomes mutual, and that her good will spreads to the other members of the group. This affection prompts Cheney to reconsider her plan.

These developments lead to a classic final scene that is more understated in the Shearer one. Emotions and the animosity level are not quite as high as they are in the 1937 production. 

This different tone earns the aforementioned scene in the 1929 film a tie with an amusingly scandalous one between Cheney and Dilling in her boudoir as the best segment in this version. The tie in the Crawford version is between the final scene and the charity event, which occurs early in both movies.

Both films have enough additional variations to warrant watching both; the Crawford one has a few more scenes, and most of the common scenes are different enough to remain interesting. Further, the Shearer version being an early talkie results in the acting in that one being broader than in the later version.

It is not surprising that Shearer can deliver bon mots as well as Crawford but is also a kinder and gentler Cheyney. Shearer more prompts than demands attention when she enters a room and lacks the level of toughness that Crawford brings to the role.

As indicated above, the bottom line is that both Hollywood legends are well cast in the role of Cheyney and adequately imprint their personalities on the role to justify the label of classic that both versions enjoy.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding the first or second "Mrs. Cheney" is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.