Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Random Review: Our Modern Maidens (1929)

Our Modern Maidens was the second leg of Joan Crawford's "flapper trilogy," sandwiched in between Our Dancing Daughters (1928) and Our Blushing Brides (1930). Like its predecessor, Our Modern Maidens centers on girl-gone-wild Joan Crawford, this time playing Billie Brown, a rich, spoiled, Jazz addict. She's engaged to marry Gil Jordan (Crawford's real-life fiance, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.), but keeps the relationship a secret until he can secure a diplomatic post worthy of her ambitions.

"It's got to be Paris!" she tells him. "The big brass band for me!"

Meanwhile, her school chum, Anita Page as the hopelessly naive Kentucky, dreams of romance—and more.

"Love! Beautiful love!" she writes in her diary. "Will it sweep me away in a cloud of glory or steal upon me ... gently?"

Unfortunately for her, the man she dreams of is none other than Billie's beau, Gil.

When Billie takes up with a powerful Washington insider—ostensibly to help Gil's career, but really to help herself—Gil consoles himself with Kentucky's virginity. When she gets pregnant, things get complicated.

Yes, this is definitely pre-Code. With its emphasis on fast cars, bathtub gin and Jazz music, the film serves as a time capsule, if not of the reality of the Jazz Age then of how America perceived it. Unfortunately, the stock market would crash just two months after the film's release. By the time its follow-up, Our Blushing Brides, hit theaters in 1930, the fun was over and Crawford's carefree flapper had become a careworn shopgirl.

While Our Dancing Daughters was Anita Page's most famous role, and best, this one is her most adorable, and the one I imagine that drove her fans—including fascist dictator Benito Mussolini—to write her mash notes by the bushel-basketful.

Equally fine is Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., in one of his best silent performances, worth seeing, if for nothing else, for his spot-on impressions of John Barrymore, John Gilbert and his own father, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.

Ironically, the least convincing performance in Our Modern Maidens is Crawford's own. Personally, I find it disconcerting to see her so wide-eyed and overeager, much preferring the world-weary cynicism of her best-known work. Although already a big star—a well-publicized marriage to Fairbanks, Jr. during filming didn't hurt—she wouldn't really hit her stride as an actress for another couple of years with such films as Dance, Fools, Dance and Grand Hotel.

Still, Our Modern Maidens is a frothy bit of fun and highly recommended for fans of Jazz Age frivolity. Mix yourself a gin rickey and enjoy.

Postscript: Our Modern Maidens was Crawford's last silent film, and if you haven't seen a silent film from this period, you may be surprised to discover it featured a synchronized score, sound effects and even some incidental dialogue.

1 comment:

Laura said...

I have such a fascination with Anita Page. She's beautiful and adorable of course, but she also has such genuine expressions and gestures. I need to get my act together and see this. Great review!