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Lady of the Night
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MGM silent. 90 minutes
US release: 2/23/25.
Cast: Norma Shearer, Malcolm McGregor, George K. Arthur, Fred Esmelton, Dale Fuller, Lew Harvey, Betty Morrissey, Gwen Lee, Aryel Houwink. (Joan is uncredited as Shearer's onscreen double.)
Credits: Adapted by Alice D.G. Miller from the story by Adela Rogers St. Johns. Director: Monta Bell. Camera: Andre Barlatier. Editor: Ralph Dawson. Art Director: Cedric Gibbons.
Norma Shearer was very much an up-and-coming young actress when she played a dual role in this MGM drama. Molly, a girl of the streets (Shearer), is getting out of reform school at the same time that Florence (also Shearer) is graduating from a finishing school. While at a dance hall, Molly has a run-in with a lusty young man, but she is rescued by David, a young inventor whose workshop is nearby (Malcolm McGregor). As a result, Molly becomes David's friend, and she is the one who insists that David sell his invention -- a safecracking device -- to the banking industry instead of to a gang of crooks who have offered him a percentage of their take. Through the bankers, David meets Florence, and soon both she and Molly are in love with him. David believes that Florence is the right girl for him, but when she discovers the existence of Molly, she insists that Molly was first. Molly, realizing that Florence would be a better match for David, returns to Chunky, a young man who, like her, comes from the street (George K. Arthur). Shearer's stand-in for this picture was a very ambitious young starlet by the name of Lucille LeSueur -- better known later on as Joan Crawford. ~ Janiss Garza, All Movie Guide
• Though uncredited, and usually not seen except for her back, this is Joan's film debut.
• When the film played NYC's Capitol theater, the musical overture was Tchaikovsky's "Fourth Symphony"; other music included "Endless Waters," by Robert C. Bruce.
Los Angeles Times (1925):
The make-up of the dance hall girl is something new for Miss Shearer, especially as it is rather exaggerated. She has imbued the character with a great deal of sympathy.
Mordaunt Hall in the New York Times (March 3, 1925):
Although "Lady of the Night," the current film attraction at the Capitol, is interesting, it is not to be classed with many artistic efforts and certainly not to be compared with Charles Chaplin's "A Woman of Paris." or Seastrom's "He Who Gets Slapped." Throughout this production Monta Bell, the director, has manifested a penchant for exaggeration, and he also causes some of his characters to be hopelessly ignorant of elementary social amenities.
Norma Shearer plays a dual rôle. She is seen as Florence, the daughter of a wealthy and powerful financier, and also as Molly, a frequenter of crooks' resorts, who lives in a hovel. The outstanding note in this picture is in having the two girls fall in love with the same man—David, a young inventor, whose workshop is adjacent to Molly's flat. The dénouement of the story is not particularly original. One might almost say that it is obvious.
Miss Shearer does the best acting she has ever done. She is splendid as Molly, who wears weird clothes and has a flair for imitation aigrette feathers. She is comely, sympathetic and attractively gowned as Florence.
George K. Arthur, who played the rôle of the Boy in "The Salvation Hunters," also gives an efficient performance, but his portrayal of stupidity and ignorance is hardly in keeping with other inclinations of the character. Some men have strange ideas when it comes to dressing, but the suit worn by Oscar (Mr. Arthur) would be laughed at even in remote corners of the Bowery. The coat is an exaggerated model of the slash in the back with the long skirts and six small buttons as close together as they can be stitched. Oscar has a hankering to look like the Prince of Wales, and in the last scene he appears in a loose golf suit, with a black twoquart cowboy's hat with an expression of intense self-satisfaction.
Malcolm McGregor impersonates David, Molly becomes infatuated with him despite the fact that her young man is supposed to be Oscar. When David has a meal with Molly. Oscar is left out in the cold, sitting on a chair with the dog, an exaggerated mongrel.
One of the ludicrous scenes is where Florence drives down in her expensive limousine to call on David. She is dressed as if to go to a smart dance, which one might gather is an unusual affectation when one is calling on an inventor in a squalid section of the city. David chats with her, tells her how good Molly has been, and then Florence rises to leave. We consider that even a young inventor would escort his sweetheart to her automobile. Apparently it isn't done, as David, the beau-ideal of manhood, so gallant when it comes to kissing, permits his sweetheart to leave unescorted.
One would almost imagine that Mr. Arthur had offered some hints in the making of this picture, as there is an occasional suggestion in it of "The Salvation Hunters." Not that it is as gloomy as that pointless production, but that some of the characters are unduly slow in their movements.
Undoubtedly there are certain good ideas in this pictorial effort and some of the subtitles are witty. It is entertaining most of the time, but now and again annoying.
Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle (1995):
Directed by Monta Bell, who deserves to be remembered alongside Von Stroheim and other directorial giants of the era, the picture stars Bell's favorite actress, Norma Shearer, in a dual role. She plays a rich girl, Florence, and a poor girl named Molly, a gangster's moll... In the eyes of the world they're totally different people. The audience, however, sees them as through the eyes of an omniscient observer -- recognizing plainly that these women are, essentially, the same.... Bell creates an elliptical, dream-like landscape, in which almost everyone pursues a vision that can't be realized -- and everyone wishes he or she were something more. In Lady of the Night people look in the mirror and search their reflection hoping to find someone else there. Complete review.
If you've seen Lady of the Night and would like to share your review, please e-mail me. Include, if you like, a picture of yourself to accompany your review, as well as a star-rating (with 5 stars the best) and any of your favorite lines from the film.
Above: Two versions of a Swedish movie poster. (The one on right is final version.)
Below: U.S. slide.
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