Thursday, July 23, 2009

Emma (1932)

Emma (no relation to the Jane Austin story) is one of the best Marie Dressler dramas - perhaps, in its gentle way, even stronger than Min and Bill.

Nominated for an Academy award for her role, Dressler plays the nanny for the four children of an inventor (well-played by Jean Hersholt). When Dressler and the inventor marry, most of the children revolt against the relationship, culminating in Dressler being dragged to court on malicious charges by the very kids she spent her life raising.

The screenplay, written by Dressler's friend and supporter, Frances Marion, is tailor-made for her, allowing Dressler a full range of emotions. The story is sentimental and endearing in the best ways; it has the ache of real emotions in it, such as the very effective scene in which Emma sees the ghost memories of the children she raised, in her vacant, lonely house.The long marriage proposal scene, beginning in her bedroom and ending in the middle of an airport, is also quite effectively sustained; the director, Clarence Brown, was perfect for sequences such as this.

One could argue that Emma's unblinking belief in her children (most of whom grew up vile and greedy) was naive. So what? Emma's not a perfect person, and it's the humanity of the characters that makes the film enjoyable eighty years later.

That Dressler's style could be utilized for dramas like this in addition to her career as a comedian is a testament to her versatility and professionalism.

Myrna Loy plays one of the bratty kids, in a role that in no way stands out.

Side note: the railroad station scene, featuring lingering close-up shots of a broad-range of just-released magazines, is a freeze-frame extravaganza for magazine collectors.

Emma has been released on Warner Bros. Archive DVD.


Juliette. said...

How marvelous-- it sounds like a winner. Marie was one of the best, thanks for sharing!

Michael N. said...

Thank you, Juliette, and thanks for reading.