LADY WINDEMERE'S FAN
starring May McAvoy, Ronald Colman and Irene Rich
The plot by Oscar Wilde was not so original. With Wilde's epigrams it became literature. With Lubitsch's subtle translation, it is delightful.
Irene Rich is charming as Mrs. Erlynne, the naughty mother
of little Lady Windemere (May McAvoy). Ronald Colman is a suave
Not for children.
LADY WINDERMERE'S FAN
Starring May McAvoy, Ronald Colman and Irene Rich
The legendary heroes of storybooks could not have possessed one bit more of daring than do the moving-picture producers of today. They will try absolutely anything, and I, for one, can only admire a company that attempts "Lady Windermere's an" and "Hogan's Alley" both in the same month. I am speaking of Warner Brothers, those dauntless gentlemen who refused to be abashed by the delicate job of translating Oscar Wilde into movieism, and undertaking, to my mind, not one whit less difficult than separating a dragon from all seven of his heads.
They tried it and, like all brave heroes, they have succeeded, not exactly in capturing Oscar Wilde, but in making a good picture, which is undoubtedly all they were trying for anyway.
The bare plot, Wilde or no Wilde, is as melodramatic as any ten-twenty-thirty idea. A woman of doubtful reputation sacrifices her last chance for respectability in order to save her daughter from the same foolish mistake she herself made in her youth. The daughter has never known her mother, so the sacrifice is a real one, with no chance of a just reward as the curtain falls. As you can see, there are plenty of opportunities in such a plot for wry smiles, torn emotions, and oh, the bitterness of it all! But Lubitsch, the director, has spared us most of them. The picture is refreshing and charming, well acted, and directed with sophistication.
As Lady Windermere's mother, Irene Rich plays the most grown-up part of her career. It seems strange to see the usually wronged but gentle Miss Rich, playing the part of a social outcast -- not the outcast of the stage and screen, but a real woman, balancing on the edge of the only world she knows, balancing prettily and gracefully to be sure, but fearfully none the less.
The rest of the cast, good as they are, lag several paces behind Miss Rich, who undoubtedly does the best work she has ever done. There is one scene between her and Bert Lytell that stands well to the fore of any acting I have ever seen on the screen.
May McAvoy seems rather colorless as Lady Windermere. There is such a thing as being so restrained as to go entirely unnoticed. A single rose in vase, in spite of what the Japanese say, is often neither as beautiful nor effective as a whole bowl of them.
Ronald Colman has an almost villainous role. I've heard that the Warners paid a large sum for the services of this popular actor, but I firmly believe that they wasted whatever money they spent. The part he plays is slight, and though he is attractive and capable, I feel that their own John Roche would have done just as well in the part and saved them the expense of getting an outside star.
"Lady's Windermere's Fan" is full of the same sort of delightful details that "Kiss Me Again" and "The Marriage Circle" contained. I do not know what America has meant to Mr. Lubitsch, but I think that Mr. Lubitsch has taught America how to smile.
Video source: Nostalgia, Facets, Movies Unlimited, Amazon
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