Friday, April 05, 2013

Bette Davis Month Bonus: 'The Golden Arrow' (1936)

Alfred E. Green directed Bette Davis in a number of her early films, including the 1932 hidden gem The Rich Are Always With Us. Green's The Golden Arrow isn't as entertaining as The Rich Are Always With Us, but it has a similar cheeky tone and playful attitude toward the quirks of the idle rich. Davis stars as what at first appears to be the heiress to a cosmetics fortune, a spoiled young woman who spends all her time lounging about on her yacht off the coast of Florida and entertaining various suitors. But Davis' Daisy is actually an actress hired to pretend to be a cosmetics heiress, in order to drum up publicity for the company.

This particular bit of information doesn't come to light until about halfway through the movie, after which Daisy has already proposed marriage to humble newspaper reporter Johnny Jones (perpetual Davis co-star George Brent), as a mutual business arrangement so he has leisure time to write his novel and she can fend off the advances of her persistent suitors. Except he still thinks she's a real heiress, and her bosses at the cosmetics company don't want her getting married at all. Got that? It's a convoluted setup that gets even more ridiculous as the movie goes on, but Green plays it all as light farce, and Davis has loads of fun as the street-smart dame who's infiltrated high society.

The ending involves a set piece built around some uncomfortable domestic violence humor, and the story kind of runs out of steam by that point anyway. But Davis and Brent have decent chemistry (although Brent is, as always, sort of bland by comparison), and the bits of sly commentary about the indulgences of the rich are entertaining and sharply delivered. It's rare to find a gem among these generic programmers that Davis made early in her career, so even though The Golden Arrow has its flaws, it still qualifies as a pleasant surprise.

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