A Woman of the World
from the novel The Tattooed Countess by Carl Van Vechten
Just what kind of film is this? From the start, Pola Negri is so overwhelming a presence that the subsequent sequences of comedy come as a surprise, though all are well done. Bue she is supposed to be an overwhelming presence in the Midwestern burg of Maple Valley where she arrives to stay with cousins. She is a tattooed countess from Italy, and she is the talk of the town where Granger, the new district attorney, is crusading against dancing, against women smoking, and against what he calls loose women in general.
I do not mean to suggest that writer and director did not make up their minds what kind of movie they wanted. I think what we see here is exactly what they wanted. But I submit that there is an unconscious subtext that crept up on the film. It is a devastating portrait of the American male as a case of arrested sexual development.
Gareth, the DA’s very young assistant with galloping hormones, feels himself ready for the countess. She is experienced enough — and the DA is right: loose enough — to enjoy the attention of the young man she addresses as Boy. But she is decent enough to mother him and put him off. Granger himself is a repressed hypocrite as our countess discovers almost as soon as they discover their mutual attraction. She will eventually take a horsewhip to Granger in front of his peers preparatory to a passionate kiss as this audience of his colleagues fades away in embarrassment, as I wanted to do.
But this is a riveting film. Pola Negri is magnificent. Holmes Herbert as Granger and Charles Emmett Mack as Gareth are excellent as are Chester Conklin (!) and Lucille Ward as the cousins with whom the countess stays.
NEXT FRIDAY POST with more on Cinevent June 14.
See you at the movies,