Today is Review Day again at the University with "Naughty Marietta" on the one hand and "Craig's Wife" on the other. Of which, one is pretty sure to be recognized right away as a member of the series of screen operettas starring Jeannette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, and of which the other may be remembered as a vehicle for Rosalind Russell and John Boles.
For the singers of "Naughty Marietta" be it said that their voices in glory make this one of those "rare pictures which can be seen and enjoyed many times." For the story, there is a loyalty to the plot of the original play, but any plot is here unimportant, merely occupying the time between songs. For the flaws, if one is to be picked, it would probably find itself in the uneven character of Mr. Eddy's acting; other supporting roles are handled well if not brilliantly.
So much for the reading of the lesson. Audiences know about "Naughty Marietta," know it is a "must see."
"Craig's Wife" presents a different problem, both to the reviewer and in its subject matter. This is a tale of domesticity gone wrong, a problem of the misunderstanding and misunderstood husband and wife, and a story of the worm of a man who finally turned.
People who live to themselves are generally left to themselves. Such is the theme, and such the description of the puritanical wife of the man Craig, a woman who might have been Oliver Alden's sister, except that unlike him she was militantly ambitious.
Like Oliver Alden they made her finish last, the author and directors, and like him she doesn't really understand why she did so poorly in the end, and like him there was no reason for it all from what went before.
During the greater part of the story she is built up as one who loves nobody, and as such as one to whom the more loss of a husband should mean nothing. She is too beautiful not to acquire another just as she would acquire another vase for the broken one. Despite the buildup, however, the end shows her desolate. That is a flaw.
But it will be argued that this was just what was meant to be. Certainly from the very beginning the picture is filled with a foreboding for the audience that, like the whistler, Miss Russell will come to no good end. And from that comes the film's great flaw.
Everybody, everything is always self-conscious of the end in view and is made over-incidental throughout the regulation reels to the eventual moment of disaster. Like "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" the tragic ending might have been written first, and the rest filled in backwards. Here is one statuesque character walking steadfastly to doom over a mess of minor fry.
And the fry know they are fry. Mr. Boles plays the poor role assigned him satisfactorily, which is to say mediocrely. He does nothing, nor is he supposed to do anything to earn any positive sympathy. At the end he is not even convincingly surprised at enfranchisement from his wife's property conception of him.
Miss Russell is the whole show. To her great credit, she plays the leading role with a frigidity shocking in its reality. In her classical gowns here is a goddess whose heart froze.