Vanity Fair (1932)

September 21st, 2022
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Chester M Franklin | Cast: Myrna Loy, Walter Byron, Barbara Kent, Conway Tearle | US Drama 78’

When she played Becky Sharp, Myrna Loy was still a couple of years away from her breakthrough role as Nora Charles in The Thin Man, which overnight established her as Hollywood’s most charismatic female star of the thirties. Her elevation to the ‘A’ list in 1934 almost exactly coincided with the introduction of the dreaded new Hays Code, which had profound consequences, as the Charles’s were never again to be such heavy drinkers, and the newly elevated Myrna the Perfect Wife was to be an entirely different entity from the gold digging tramps as which the pre-Code Myrna had until now tended to be typecast. The latter was far closer to the woman she actually was, but the former are not surprisingly much more fun to watch when the opportunity now arises – which is far too seldom. And is what makes Vanity Fair so tantalising.

Even in her star vehicles Myrna was rarely the focus of things; and had she played one of literature’s most celebrated vixens in this modernised Vanity Fair in a production properly mounted by MGM (in the sort of slinky backless gowns currently being designed by Adrian for Norma Shearer) it could have been a powerhouse showcase for Loy in her nubile young prime. The screenplay by F.Hugh Herbert does a creditable job of compressing the bare bones of the novel into just 73 minutes; and Loy is surrounded by a pretty good supporting cast (turning her mercenary charms on a trio of randy old goats played by Billy Bevan, Lionel Belmore and Montague Love). But unfortunately for Myrna, what could have been her big break was made on loan-out in just ten days for a poverty row outfit called Allied Pictures and creaks badly.

Miriam Hopkins made a far less appealing Becky three years later, but was backed by an opulent Technicolor production with all the trimmings; which although post-Code also permitted her a more upbeat fate than that suffered here by poor Myrna. @RichardChatten

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