A review by John Gammie
[This article first appeared in Film Weekly (UK), 1st November 1935]
with William Powell as Fritz Heideneck, Luise Rainer as Leopoldine Major, Frank Morgan as Dr. Karl Herrandt, Virginia Bruce as Gerta Herrandt, Reginald Owen as Paul Herrandt, Mady Christians as Anita Keller, Laura Hope Crews as the Countess, Henry Travers as the concierge, Mathilda Comont as Carmen. M.G.M. picture, directed by Robert Z. Leonard. At the Empire from to-day.
A successful and entertaining Hollywood translation of the Austrian film, “Maskerade.” William Powell is a little ill at ease in his part, but there is compensation for this in the clever and highly promising performance of newcomer Luise Rainer.
HOLLYWOOD has copied the Austrian film shot by shot, scene by scene with extraordinary exactness.
Naturally, the resulting picture tends to lack the spontaneity of the Continental original. Equally naturally, it is more polished, has far greater star value, and is fully intelligible to everybody by reason of its translated dialogue.
Many people may prefer this version, especially as it marks the debut of Luise Rainer, a pert, pretty and clever brunette whose performance in the former Paula Wessely role justifies M.G.M.’s unprecedented action in hailing her as a born star.
It is necessary to emphasise the point that Miss Rainer is completely different from Miss Wessely in every way, including her interpretation of the part. But that is possibly just as well in a film which is otherwise so close a carbon copy of a Continental success.
The involved story, as Maskerade has already told us, concerns a Viennese scandal said to have occurred in reality in the early days of this century.
The wife of a well-known man indiscreetly poses for a fashionable artist attired only in a mask and muff, and the portrait is accidentally published on the front cover of a popular periodical. There is some confusion about the identity of the model which need not be gone into here. The salient point is that when the artist is taken to task about it, the suggestion is made that a disagreeable scandal may be avoided if he will indicate a woman – any woman other than the true one – as the lady of the mask and muff portrait.
He thereupon picks a name out of the telephone directory; the name of an obscure companion-help, a Miss Leopoldine Major, played, of course, by Luise Rainer.
The rest of the plot is a neat development of the situation. Improbabilities which were cloaked, in the Austrian picture, by the Continental dialogue, become rather obvious in this translated version.
But the by-play is delightful – especially that between Luise Rainer and William Powell – and the melodramatic climax is effectively handled.
A notable high-light is a scene, charmingly acted by Miss Rainer, in which Miss Major goes to the artist’s studio to pose for him, and wavers between happiness and tears because she is doubtful of the propriety of the whole thing, yet thrilled by its romantic unconventionality. Another big scene occurs at the opera, where the threads of the plot are finally disentangled, and Caruso’s voice is matched with the miming of an actor on the stage.
William Powell, as the artist, acts as suavely as ever, but with a slight diffidence, as thought uncomfortably conscious of filling another actor’s shoes.
Miss Rainer makes her entrance rather late, after a lot of complicated preliminaries, but from the moment of her first appearance there is no doubt whatever that it is her picture. She is captivating, provocative, appealing, comical, wistful in turn.
For the rest, the acting is exceedingly capable, if not inspired. Reginald Owen and Frank Morgan enter with gusto into the business of re-creating two of the principal characters – the doctor and the orchestra conductor – more or less exactly as created by their Continental prototypes. Virginia Bruce and Mady Christians deal attractively with the other leading women in the cast, and Henry Travers and Mathilde Comont play two small parts nicely.
Whether you have seen Maskerade or not, you are likely to enjoy Hollywood’s account of it.