Tarnished Lady

  • 1931
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Drama

This was Bankhead's very first sound film, but unfortunately the title sums up the film's quality. The husky-voiced actress plays a New York socialite who marries Brook so she can dig her claws into his vast wealth. Foster, Bankhead's chief rival in social circles, is thoroughly dismayed by this union, as is Kirkland, one of Bankhead's former suitors. Bankhead...read more

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This was Bankhead's very first sound film, but unfortunately the title sums up the film's quality. The husky-voiced actress plays a New York socialite who marries Brook so she can dig her claws into his vast wealth. Foster, Bankhead's chief rival in social circles, is thoroughly dismayed

by this union, as is Kirkland, one of Bankhead's former suitors. Bankhead grows bored with the marriage and takes to hanging out in nightclubs, then gets a job of her own. When Wall Street wipes out Brook's fortunes, Bankhead, now with a child to raise, realizes she does indeed love her husband

and the two are reunited. This was Cukor's first solo directorial effort (following three codirected films: GRUMPY, VIRTUOUS SIN, and THE ROYAL FAMILY OF BROADWAY) but it shows none of the skill or subtleties he would later develop that made him the quintessential "woman's director." Instead, he

delivers a soap opera that differs little from many similar pictures of the era. Bankhead had spent the previous seven years in London theater, where she made headlines for both on- and off-stage dramatics. Her reputation as both an acting talent and a fiery personality preceded her, and with

TARNISHED LADY (subtitled A STORY OF A NEW YORK LADY) Paramount hoped to launch another star along the lines of Marlene Dietrich. Bankhead appeared to fit the profile with her striking looks, heavy-lidded eyes, and husky voice. Posters for the film boldly exclaimed: "...the picture producers who

brought you Dietrich bring you another woman thrill--Tallulah Bankhead. She enthralled a nation. England's adored American beauty on the screen. Get within range of her radiance--feel the rapturous thrill of her voice, her person!" Publicity material went so far as to suggest theater owners rig up

a low-charged sash cord so patrons might have an opportunity to experience Bankhead's "shocking" personality for themselves. Yet for all the studio hype, Bankhead's dynamic qualities failed to ignite the film. Her stage training translated poorly to the camera, lacking compassionate traits that

would have rounded out her character in this different medium. Cukor, who admitted the script was hardly refined to begin with, later stated "...I don't think (Bankhead's) quality of excitement ever quite worked on the screen." In her autobiography Tallulah, Bankhead wrote: "Was it any good? In a

word, NO!...The picture was made by trial and error. What appeared on the screen showed it." Though shot at Paramount's Astoria studios, TARNISHED LADY required some location shooting in a Harlem nightclub. Bankhead was enraptured with Harlem nightlife and soon became a popular figure among the

regulars there. Word of Bankhead's nightly jaunts eventually reached her father, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. The proper southern gentleman was greatly distressed to hear of his daughter's carousing in New York's famed black sector and sent her a letter expressing his displeasure

with her actions. Bankhead implored producer Wanger to help straighten out relations with her father. Wanger agreed, responding with a telegram which read in part: "I think it is scandalous that her sole trip to Harlem should be so misinterpreted. She was sent there with her director...to see

conditions as there was a Harlem nightclub scene in her present picture. But after a visit it was decided atmosphere was too vulgar....I regret the episode should have caused such misrepresentation." Bankhead made a few more pictures in a similar vein for Paramount but not one was able to capture

the spark that made her unique. Not until 1944, when she starred in Alfred Hitchcock's LIFEBOAT, were the actress' skills successfully put on film and her true abilities acknowledged.

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  • Rating: NR
  • Review: This was Bankhead's very first sound film, but unfortunately the title sums up the film's quality. The husky-voiced actress plays a New York socialite who marries Brook so she can dig her claws into his vast wealth. Foster, Bankhead's chief rival in social… (more)

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