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Living on Velvet (1935)


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Living on Velvet (1935) with Kay Francis, George Brent and Warren William was one of the films shown last week on TCM that I hadn't seen in its entirety before.

 

Did anyone else see this one?

 

There were several striking moments in the Frank Borzage movie, some touching, some funny, and some much more somber than expected. The story centers around the sense of disconnection and self-destructive behavior of the Brent character after his small plane crashes at the beginning of the movie, killing his parents and sister. In an unusually good, emotional performance for Brent, who seems, for all his good looks and devil-may-care air to be ensnared by an innate shyness as well as a superficial blitheness, he wanders around the world, waiting, it seems for the other shoe to drop while feeling a survivor's guilt and a sense of alienation from the life around him. The only earthly pursuit that appears to consistently intrigue him is flying, (often recklessly). His arrival in NY and the efforts of his wealthy friend Warren William to distract him from his sense of doom leads to a party, peopled with a frieze of high society fossils--except for one woman, who, as a besotted Warren William explains, is surpassingly beautiful and lovable. Of course, once Brent and Kay ("Amy") spot each other, Borzage stages a scene that makes me wonder if Rogers and Hammerstein were thinking of this film a decade later when they wrote:

"Some enchanted evening

You may see a stranger,

you may see a stranger

Across a crowded room

And somehow you know,

You know even then

That somewhere you'll see her

Again and again."

 

From that moment, Brent has a chance to live again through the connection he and Kay feel for one another. Soon the two are married, the gentle William character (called "Gibraltar") acquiesces gracefully and generously offers them an aerie on Long Island to build their nest in. As reality sets in, the impractical nature of Brent resurfaces, and Kay's character, who loves him and comes to see him as beyond her help, the film takes a series of interesting turns.

 

If the film has a major flaw, it is the ending, which in true Warner's speedy fashion was rather abrupt and out of tune with the preceding drama, at least to me.

 

There are several scenes that were particularly enjoyable. I especially liked that moment when Kay & Brent spot one another for the first time, and the small touches in the story. The couple's ride atop a 5th Avenue bus, their visit to the Augustus Saint-Gaudens statue of General Sherman in Central Park, the expression on Brent's face when he starts to feel trapped on a commuter train to NYC, and their relationship with "Gibraltar", (played by Warren William in a quiet, gentle key that made me think of him even more than usual as a rather sweet greyhound, rather than his often wolfish self on screen).

 

I was puzzled by the ending. Then I read that Warren William, whose character is secondary to the leads, with few scenes, was about to finish his Warner's contract at the time of production. His stability and loyalty appear to make him a more logical mate for Kay, who craves a stable, meaningful life. Yet, because of his precarious position at Warner Brothers, and because George Brent had just signed a multi-year contract, his unlikely redemption was emphasized, distorting the story a bit for me. A good movie, nevertheless, with some moments that gleamed, despite the flaws.

 

 

Here's a link to the trailer for Living on Velvet, which refers to Kay's keeping a diary--something that those of us who know Kay's story, might find amusing.

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Hi, Moira! This is one of the movies I recorded but haven't gotten to yet. I am very excited

now to see it after what you wrote, especially about the Kay/Brent relationship---it sounds

like my kind of story. Maybe I'll watch it tonight.

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I unfortunately wasn't able to catch or record this one, but thanks to moira's TCM preview link, I can see what I have to look forward to in terms of Kay's better films (as you say, I've only seen the lesser ones) And I like what I see with George and Warren's relationship.

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I re-watched this one the other night and enjoyed it.

 

I'm not sure I would call it Kay's best film or anything, but I think it's a good part for Kay and is, overall, an enjoyable film.

 

George Brent and Warren William where both good in their roles, but I felt that Warren William's talent was somewhat wasted in a supporting role such as this.

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*Living on Velvet* was an unusual little film. I agree about Brent's performance. I think he was better here then I have ever seen him. I also loved the scene when they first meet. I haven't had the pleasure of seeing a lot of Frank Borzage's earlier films. I just watched *Man's Castle* and, now having seen this one as well, I am looking forward to seeing more of his 20's and early 30's work.

 

I thought the scene where Kay confesses to a speech impediment strangely touching as well as surprising. It made me like her even more. I did find the plot disconcerting at times. You did a wonderful job in your description of the film and I particularly appreciate your insights on the ending. I agree it had it's flaws but it kept my attention and I enjoyed watching it.

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