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It's 1930 in a European metropolis. Lisa Koslov, a young, innocent woman, is a student of piano at the city's music conservatory. She is without her mother for a few days for the first time in her life, her mother, out of town on family business, who she cannot turn to at this time for advice in dealing with the advances of an older man, who she will learn is famed composer/conductor/pianist Michael Michailow. Despite not feeling that spending time with Michael is the right thing, she is unable to fend off his advances, which he is able to manipulate to his advantage. Lisa is on a night out at a cabaret with Michael when the cabaret's aging singer, Vera Kowalska, spots Lisa and Michael in the audience, Vera who shoots Michael dead before he and Lisa can leave. At Vera's murder trial where Lisa is among the eyewitnesses testifying for the prosecution, Vera readily admits that she shot Michael, but she will not talk otherwise to defend herself by providing justifying reasons for her ...Written by
This must be the best role Kay Francis ever had - and she rises to it, giving an astonishing performance. When you first see her - in blonde wig, singing and dancing Dietrich style but half-drunk - you know you're in for something different. As the film flashes back Francis transforms into an innocent young girl, and back to the present she stands with solemn dignity, a woman all but "washed-up". You'll never forget the final moments of this film.
When Francis is not on, and it takes her a while to appear, the film is less extraordinary - but by no means bad. Jane Bryan's a bit wet, but Basil Rathbone is suitably slimy as her seducer. And there are strong performances from the wonderful Laura Hope Crews (Aunt Pitty-Pat as an opera singer) and the excellent Donald Crisp.
But it is the visual style of the piece that, coupled with Francis' performance, makes the film unforgettable. The story goes that this is a frame by frame remake of a German film called "Mazurka" starring Pola Negri. This would explain why the film looks so different to the usual Hollywood style. There are bizarre camera angles, expressionist sequences, non-realistic moments, haunting music and bizarre costume, make-up and set designs. Joe May directs with a steady hand, and Sidney Hickox's cinematography and Orry-Kelly's costumes warrant special mention.
This film deserves to be resurrected and re-assessed. It is one of the most original American films of the 1930's. It also makes me want to re-assess the career of Kay Francis, who is an actress I never warmed to before this film. See it and tell me what you think!
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