Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Discarded Lovers (Tower, 1932)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Two nights ago Charles and I ran a movie: Discarded Lovers, a recent download from and a very interesting 1932 movie from a company called Tower Productions — though I must confess I was fooled and thought the production company was “Eminent Studios” because that was the first thing I saw when I tested the download before burning it to DVD. It turned out that this was one of those annoying downloads put up by a person who lopped off the opening and closing credits to save space, and “Eminent Studios” was the name of the fictitious movie company most of the dramatis personae worked for. It’s a murder mystery centered around star Irma Gladden (Natalie Moorhead — so we were watching this very interesting actress the second night in a row, once again playing her typecasting as a villainess), who when she isn’t making movies is busy seducing every man within striking distance. She’s turned her ex-husband André Leighton (played by Roy D’Arcy in a performance that’s obviously channeling John Barrymore, the real-life model for his character as he was for Norman Maine in the original A Star Is Born) into a drunken wretch — though he’s still her co-star in her current film — along with her director, Warren Sibley (Robert Frazer); her writer, Rex Foresythe (Jason Robards, Sr. — father of the later Jason Robards who did all those O’Neill plays on Broadway and briefly became Lauren Bacall’s second husband); her chauffeur, Ralph Norman (Jack Trent), who when she dumps him gets his revenge by stealing one of her rings and pawning it, only he gets caught; a hanger-on, Robert Worth (Allen Dailey) who’s supposed to be a previous husband of Irma’s but that isn’t that clear in the film itself (especially since he looks younger than just about everyone else in the cast and for her to have married and broken up with him and then married Andre, she’d practically have had to snag him out of grade school); and just about every other guy in the cast except Bob Adair (Russell Hopton), a New York reporter who’s in Hollywood on vacation, just solved another murder case and gets impressed on this one when the police, headed by Chief Sommers (J. Farrell McDonald) and Sgt. Delaney (Fred Kelsey, oddly made up to look like an “Italian” type even though his last name indicates he’s supposed to be playing Irish), find Irma shot to death in the back of her car and figure that since Bob was so much help the last time …

Discarded Lovers is one of the most cynical movies Hollywood ever made about itself — even The Death Kiss, filmed a year later and also a murder mystery set inside a studio in which an actor is killed during the making of a film, isn’t this nasty towards Hollywood and the people who work there — and for the first half-hour or so it’s an utterly marvelous movie, powered by the woman-you-love-to-hate performance of Natalie Moorhead as Irma. Then, alas, she gets dispatched and the second half of the movie is considerably less interesting, though its actual writers, Arthur Hoerl and Edward T. Lowe, Jr., came up with a clever conceit: the writer Rex Forsythe turns out to be the murderer, and Bob Adair figures it out by noting the similarities between the real-life situations and the plot of the movie Irma had just finished making when she was killed, particularly the plot twist that the character Andre Leighton was playing installed his sister as Irma’s character’s secretary to keep tabs on her, and the real Andre Leighton installed his actual sister, Valerie Christine (Barbara Weeks, who seems to be in the mix mainly to provide a “nice” girl for Bob Adair to end up with at the end), as Irma’s real secretary for precisely the same reason. Like a lot of early-1930’s indies, Discarded Lovers could have benefited from a more Gothic, proto-noir look instead of the clearly photographed scenes created by director Fred Newmeyer and cinematographer William Hyer, but even as it stands it’s quite a nice little movie and one in which, unlike a lot of mysteries from the period, we actually do care whodunit.