Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Love Trap (1929)

Laura LaPlante 1930

Part-talkies are really hard to find these days but lately, when exploring the territory I found a few and enjoyed most of them. The Love Trap (1929) from Universal is something so utterly rare as a half-talkie. The first forty minutes of the film is all silent with intertitles. The second half is a fullblown talkie. The silent part has a beautifully synchronized score filled with sound effects, the only thing missing is the dialogue. It all works very well and I didn't think much of the lack of dialogue. The latter half, the talkie part starts with a quite long scene in total silence. This is very effective and cleverly done and helps the suspense building. The story is engaging and at the end of the film you don't realize the first forty minutes of it was silent. As a whole it must be one of few part talkies that really worked. Maybe because the sound enters at a critical moment in the picture and only takes the film to another level just as a film done partly in color would.

The Love Trap opened in August 1929 and was directed by William Wyler, a German born director who started his career at Universal making silent westerns in the mid 20's. He would later have the distinction of directing more Oscar-nominated acting performances than anyone else (31), a record still held by him today. His second to last effort was directing Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl in 1968. Other notable films directed by Wyler are Roman Holiday which made Audrey Hepburn a superstar in 1953 and the all time favorite epic Ben Hur from 1959.

The Love Trap tells the story of Evelyn Todd (Laura La Plante) a bright-eyed dancer who is fired from her chorus line job, and since she needs the money, accepts her friend's invite to a party of swells, where she will make some dough just for showing up. At the party she's cornered by a sly womanizer (Robert Ellis) and when she finally finds her way home she finds she's been evicted from her apartment, the furniture thrown out in on the sidewalk in the rain. In the depths of her despair, she is rescued by a handsome Prince Charming Peter Harrington (Neil Hamilton), who turns out to be a wealthy young businessman.

The tale switches to light comedy, as the two fall in love and marry, then it's back to melodrama as Peter's stuffy mom feel her son has married beneath his station. The worst thing is that Peter's uncle (Norman Trevor) recognizes Evelyn from the wild party both had attended earlier. Unable to explain her innocence, Evelyn sets an elaborate trap for the old aristocrat, in hopes that she can expose his error in judgement and regain the confidence of her husband.

For being a relatively innocuous "Cinderella" tale, The Love Trap contains a few moments of sexual intrigue, such as when Peter's snootie sister (Rita La Roy) tells the family she cannot be bothered with Evelyn's sordid situation, and as the family leaves to rescue Peter from the gold digger, the camera lingers on the sister climbing the stairs, soon followed by a slyly winking butler.

Laura LaPlante retired from the screen in 1935 and left us in 1996 aged 91. Her best remembered film is arguably the silent classic The Cat and the Canary (1927).
The Love Trap has been released on DVD by Kino and it also contains a wonderful documentary on William Wyler.


Elizabeth said...

I'm afraid the only Laura LaPlante movie I've seen is "The Cat and the Canary", but I would absolutely love to see more of her! I have to go looking for the "Love Trap".

Raquel Stecher said...

Wonderful Prof. Jonas. And this part-talkie is available on DVD? I immediately added it to me queue.

I love the colorized picture too.

Now will stop gushing and let others follow.

KING OF JAZZ said...

Interesting as always, Herr Professor. Thank goodness this 1929 half-talkie from Universal ain't lost! It has all the earmarks of being the type that would be.

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