Frank S. Nugent in the New York Times
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The Gorgeous Hussy
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MGM. 105 minutes.
US release: 8/28/36.
VHS release: 6/24/92. DVD release: 6/15/10.
Cast: Joan Crawford (as "Peggy O'Neal"), Robert Taylor, Lionel Barrymore, Franchot Tone, Melvyn Douglas, James Stewart, Alison Skipworth, Louis Calhern, Beulah Bondi, Melville Cooper, Sidney Toler, Gene Lockhart, Clara Blandick, Frank Conroy, Nydia Westman, Charles Trowbridge, Willard Robertson, Ruby DeRemer, Betty Blythe, Zeffie Tilbury.
Credits: Based on the 1934 novel The Gorgeous Hussy by Samuel Hopkins Adams. Screenplay: Ainsworth Morgan and Stephen Morehouse Avery. Producer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Director: Clarence Brown. Cinematographer: George J. Folsey. Art Director: Cedric Gibbons. Musical Score: Herbert Stothart. Costumes: Adrian. Editor: Blanche Sewell.
Plot Summary: The Gorgeous Hussy purports to be based on the life of Margaret "Peggy" O'Neill, the controversial wife of early 19th-century politician John Eaton, who served as cabinet minister during the Andrew Jackson presidency. Snubbed by the Washington elite because of her questionable background as a tavernkeeper's daughter, "Pothouse Peg" is championed by her longtime friend Jackson, who chooses to ignore the gossip-mongers and the scandal-provokers of the era. He even stands by Peggy's side when one of her admirers (Melvyn Douglas) is ignominiously killed by his enemies. Some historians believe that the "gorgeous hussy" and Jackson were themselves lovers, but this is never hinted at in the film, which is described in a foreword as "fiction founded upon historical fact." Joan Crawford wears an exhausting succession of gorgeous gowns as Peggy Eaton, but she can't do much to enliven her sketchily written role; one is aware that she brings disgrace to everyone she meets, but one is hard-pressed to understand why. Much better within the framework is Lionel Barrymore as Jackson, Beulah Bondi as "Old Hickory"'s pipe-smoking wife, Rachel, and Sidney Toler (two years away from Charlie Chan) as Daniel Webster. James Stewart is also in the film as one "Rowdy" Dow, a role he later chose to forget. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
Awards: 1937 Oscar nominations for Beulah Bondi, Best Supporting Actress; and George J. Folsey, Best Cinematography.
Total Gross: $2,019,000 ($116,000 profit)
In production from 4/27/36 to 6/36.
Frank S. Nugent in the New York Times
September 5, 1936
Democratic Unconvention in 'The Gorgeous Hussy,' at the Capitol
It is our hope that some day we may come to understand why Hollywood, when it selects a colorful personality for one of its themes, almost invariably chooses to divest the hapless character of that very color which seemed to justify a screen biography and hastens to reduce it (or him or her) to a faded stereotype which might pass for any one.
Consider the Peggy O'Neill Eaton of "The Gorgeous Hussy," which came into the Capitol yesterday under the proud aegis of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Pothouse Peg she was called because her father was a tavern-keeper, and she became a sort of daughterly Mlle. Maintenon to the Andrew Jackson administration. She had a few marriages, a host of suitors and Mr. Jackson's ear. The ladies of Washington disapproved her socially and the gentlemen of Washington courted her politically. She was vivacious, intelligent and born before her time—a woman-suffrage time. President Jackson disbanded his Cabinet because of her, men died for her and eventually she moved to Spain and married a 19-year-old dancing instructor.
Is there a bit of that in Metro's and Miss Joan Crawford's portrayal of Pothouse Peg? Well, just a bit. But most of Peggy Eaton and most of "The Gorgeous Hussy" can be guessed from the picture's apologetic foreword: "This story of Peggy Eaton and her times is not presented as a precise account of either—rather as fiction founded upon historical fact. Except for historically important personages, the characters are fictional." We would suggest a correction in that last sentence, making it read "even the historically important personages are fictional." We don't believe in Miss Crawford's Peggy, we have reservations about Lionel Barrymore's Andrew Jackson, we discount Sidney Toler's Daniel Webster, we pity Melvyn Douglas's Senator John Randolph of Virginia and we cannot even recall Frank Conroy's John Calhoun or Charles Trowbridge's Martin Van Buren.
What we have here, and you might as well make the best of it, is a thoroughly romanticized biography in which Miss Crawford is gorgeous, but never a hussy. An innkeeper's daughter she may be, but that is all the women of Washington can possibly hold against her. Sweet, demure, trusting and of rather doubtful inspiration to Old Hickory—even though Mr. Barrymore gallantly implies she is his chief prop in his efforts to preserve the Union against the States-righters—Miss Crawford's Peggy is a maligned Anne of Green Gables, a persecuted Polyanna, a dismayed Dolly Dimple.
Rebuffed by her true love, Senator Randolph, she marries the dashing young Lieutenant Timberlake (Mr. Robert Taylor), redeems her early widowhood by honoring Secretary of War Eaton (Mr. Franchot Tone) with her hand and eventually deserts the Capitol (the one in Washington, not on West Fifty-first Street) rather than cause President Jackson and the United States any more trouble. It is a gallant gesture on Peggy's part, but no more gallant than that Presidential inquiry in which Jackson dismisses his Cabinet and their ladies for daring to misconstrue Mrs. Eaton's interest in the Union.
Part of Metro's and Samuel Hopkins Adams's story is historically true, but most of it has an incredible ring and the players never are quite convincing in their political or emotional arguments. History compels us to accept the real Peggy Eaton's contribution to the preservation of Jacksonian democracy, but our national pride rebels at the notion of having to thank Miss Crawford for making possible such boons as Mr. Cleveland, Mr. Wilson and Mr. Roosevelt. We refuse to acknowledge "The Gorgeous Hussy" as fact, and as cinematized fiction it is merely passable.
Howard Barnes in the New York Herald Tribune (1936):
In the title role Joan Crawford is handsome, although century-old costumes do not go well with the pronounced modernity of her personality. She makes of Peggy Eaton a straightforward and zealous figure....[A] show that is rich with trappings and accented by moments of moving intensity.
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