Fay Wray in WOMAN IN THE DARK (1934)


Woman in the Dark
Review by Steven Hill

NOTE: This review contains plot spoilers.
To skip potential spoilers, read BLACK text and skip GRAY text.

The industry's move from primitive to sophisticated filmmaking was a very rapid one, led by pioneering greats such as F W Murnau and Erich von Stroheim. This low-budget film took a little bit of a hodgepodge of genres - romance, crime, comedy, thriller, chase - and made a tossed salad of a movie with a touch of sophistication that raises it above the standard level set by others of its type. That sophistication comes largely from the cast, and particularly from Fay Wray. It would be an understatement to say that Wray has rarely looked more breathtaking, in many scenes here she simply glows with sexuality - but this is the sexuality of a woman who is either nonchalant about her appearance, or completely unaware of it. In other words, this is not a Mae West sort of "look at how sexy I am, big boy" but a "Oh... I am? I didn't realise."

Ralph Bellamy plays Bradley, a young man just being let out of prison for accidentally killing a man in a brawl; he's determined to stay straight and out of trouble, but trouble has a habit of finding him. It begins with Helen (Nell O'Day), the young daughter of the town sheriff, rediscovering her infatuation with Bradley and only gets worse with the unexpected appearance of a beautiful woman in a satin dress who more or less bursts in on Bradley and Helen. Helen provides some first aid to the wounded knee of the woman who introduces herself as Louise Lorimer (Fay Wray). The situation begins to get out of hand as the shady Robson (Melvyn Douglas) shows up with his lackey and they demand to take Louise back with them. Since they don't get their way, Robson phones the sheriff to tell him that his daughter is with Bradley. The sheriff promptly heads out to retrieve her.

Helen escapes her father and returns home without incident, but Robson and his lackey return unexpectedly. Bradley's attempts to resist fighting completely break down when he discovers his dog shot dead on his living room floor courtesy of Robson's lackey, to whom he delivers a knockout punch. Robson and his pal leave, but soon comes word that the lackey has suffered a fractured skull, and Bradley is suddenly a wanted man. He flees with Louise to his ex-con buddy Tommy Logan's (Roscoe Ates) apartment in the city. The police manage to track them there and Bradley is shot while leaping over fences in an escape attempt. Louise worries about Bradley and realises that she's become fond of him against her own judgment. She becomes determined to prove his innocence to prevent his assignment of a new jail term.

Fay Wray's role of Louise Lorimer is more in-depth than her horror film roles even though her past is never revealed (several lines of dialogue suggest that she is a prostitute). She gets a lot of screen time and a quantity of close-ups far greater than her co-stars, which is one reason why her smoldering looks dominate the movie and turn up the heat a notch. Bellamy is extremely appealing here although he does seem to be unusually interested in his pipe - he's constantly tapping, filling, lighting, cleaning and smoking it. Roscoe Ates provides the comic relief along with Joe King as the detective, who has a running gag about his unending hunger. At one point he is offered a banana and he says, "You know what I like about bananas? No bones," while devouring the fruit in two bites. Melvyn Douglas spends half the time in a semi-drunken state but you can tell he's not really a *bad* guy, just a rascal.

A fast-moving melodramatic comedy-thriller shot in New York (a less-than-common thing in the 1930s) Woman in the Dark stands out as providing a significant leading role for Fay Wray and a great deal of enjoyment for its viewers.

shill's Rating: 8 out of 10.

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