ONE NIGHT OF LOVE (1934)
The first fifteen or twenty minutes seem clichéd and the sets are sparsely furnished to indicate the humble origins of Grace Moore’s character. But it gets better once the musical selections are played. The sets also improve as her character becomes more successful in the opera world. Moore is a very strong vocalist, and in some ways, she’s even better than her contemporary, Jeanette MacDonald. The extended scene halfway into the picture where she performs Bizet’s Carmen is excellent.
The film is also helped by the casting of Lyle Talbot as a would-be suitor, Jessie Ralph as the maid, and Jane Darwell as Moore’s mother. The leading man is played by Italian actor Tullio Carminati and his interpretation of the Svengali-like manager is quite good. The finale, where he encourages her to overcome her stage fright and she sings from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, is exquisite and triumphant.
LIVING ON VELVET (1935)
For anyone who doesn’t know what the title means, it’s certainly spelled out in the picture’s story. It’s fairly interesting the way George Brent’s character explains his ideas of “living on velvet” to his wife, played by Kay Francis. They both suffer a lot in this film, but since this is a melodrama geared for female audiences, her torment is designed to be a lot more noble than his. Warren William, billed over Brent, appears as the couple’s best friend, in more of a supporting role; he probably suffers too but his reduced screen time doesn’t allow us to glimpse his particular turmoil and neurosis.
For the most part the performances are sincerely played, and the woman (Helen Lowell) cast as Kay’s impatient aunt is particularly good. Some of the denouement doesn’t make sense in the last few minutes, because a character who was supposed to die is suddenly allowed to live (per Jack Warner’s wishes). Even if said character had died, I am not too sure how it would have reinforced a point the writers were trying to make. Maybe it was all supposed to lead to a realization that pain and suffering can somehow be erased, once you stop living on velvet.
EASY LIVING (1937)
Jean Arthur is enjoyable in many films and makes motion picture acting look effortless. But it must be said that she gives a particularly extraordinary performance here. She more than makes up for Preston Sturges’ script, which is dated– by modern standards, and probably when it first was shown back in the late 1930s. As always with a story by Sturges, the humor is over the top. But Arthur and her costars are able to inject much-needed doses of realism.
Mitchell Leisen’s superb direction helps, and his background in art design pays off handsomely, since the plot involves relocating our gal from a run-down apartment to a posh hotel suite. The hotel set is elaborately decorated, and it fosters the illusion that in these digs, life is easy to live.