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 Movie Review:
- Some weaknesses, but overall a decent film.

dir. Michael Curtiz at Warner Bros.
with Richard Barthelmess (as Marvin Blake), Dorothy Jordan (as Betty Wright) and Bette Davis (as Madge)

Though silent screen legend Barthelmess headlined this story of a sharecropper's son who betters himself through education and lands a job in the plantation owner’s office only to wind up caught in the middle of an owner-tenant dispute, Bette Davis stole the picture away from him as the seductive daughter of the owner who sets her sights on the naive bookkeeper.  While the film might have been important initially for its statement about organized labor (there’s a disclaimer at the beginning about the film not aiming to take sides in planter vs. tenant disputes), that significance today is overshadowed by the landmark this film became in the careers of both Barthelmess and Davis.  For Barthelmess, it was the last significant role of his career.  For Davis, it was the first of the wily female roles which were to become her trademark, and paved the way for her performance as Mildred in OF HUMAN BONDAGE (1934) –- the film that made her a full-fledged star. Plot-wise everything flows smoothly, though the racial stereotypes of the American South can be a bit bothersome to the modern viewer.

If you’re not used to seeing Bette as a young woman (i.e. in her 20s), then this is a good film to catch.  She’s blonde, lithe, southern and loose, dressed in pant suits and overalls, smoking and driving poor Marvin Blake crazy with her resonant voice and seductive smile.  Director Curtiz didn’t want her for the film because he thought "the little brown wren" (as she was known around the Warners lot) lacked the sex appeal needed to play Madge convincingly.  Needless to say, Bette proved him wrong.

Reviewed: December 24, 1999

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