Remember Last Night?

Screening on Film
Directed by James Whale.
With Edward Arnold, Robert Young, Constance Cummings.
US, 1935, 35mm, black & white, 81 min.
Print source: Universal

Man, to be James Whale in the early 30s! Mise-en-scène monuments Frankenstein, The Old Dark House, The Invisible Man! And, right after Bride of Frankenstein,Whale confected this sparkling, boozed-up whodunit with a question mark in the title! Adam Hobhouse’s novel The Hangover Murders told the story of partying prohibition-age bon vivants so sloshed none of them can remember anything of the night before, when one of their number was murdered. The Production Code forbade use of the word “hangover” in the title, but could not keep the yummy sea of Sidecars, Manhattans and Gimlets out of Whale’s picture. Nor could Hollywood keep the openly gay Whale in any closet. He had style by the platinum ton. And even though there are no gay characters in this ensemble picture, the decor, elegance and élan are pure pre-war queer fantasy, a highly polished world of oversized swinging doors in lacquer, joyously abused tuxedos, and balustrades hung with sozzled socialites half out of their slinky gowns. There is one sobering scene, involving a great American embarrassment, which one might need a few drinks to forget. I myself had forgotten it, I’m ashamed to say, until a Google image search proved its presence in this film beyond reasonable doubt. I hope it’s somehow historically instructive, and not just unpleasant or hurtful, to face what must not be forgotten.

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