“When you write a good book, I’ll publish it”

Yesterday began early for me…

[Photo by me, writing in the dark, on the sofa, pre-dawn, September 23, 2021.]

…but I got lots of writing done. Home alone last evening, I made myself a spaghetti and meatballs dinner. I also sought something “different” to watch on a streaming service.

In a “classic” movies mood, on Amazon Prime I stumbled on The Wedding Night. It is a 1935 romantic drama starring Gary Cooper and Anna Sten. I had never heard of it: the film had slipped totally under my radar – although I am sure a Cooper aficionado (which I am not) would know about it.

Of course before I started watching it I looked it up on Wikipedia, and saw it earned good reviews upon its release, but it was not a hit. Cooper was one of the biggest American film stars of the 1930-50s. Born in what today is Ukraine, Sten had begun her film career in Germany in the 1920s and here is in her third movie for Samuel Goldwyn after being “discovered” by him in 1932.

Wikipedia also notes that critics today still consider it a good film and even a pleasure to discover for the first time. I have to say I agree. Indeed it is well-made and adult and serious – perhaps it was not a hit in 1935 precisely because it was too adult and too serious and even too “troubling” in some ways for many Depression-era filmgoers looking for romantic escapism.

I sat there and also chuckled to myself as I fully realized what it was about. Cooper is author “Tony Barrettwho had had a big hit with his first book and been the toast of New York City. (Echoes of F. Scott Fitzgerald.) He and his wife “Dora” (Helen Vinson) also like partying. (Echoes, I thought, of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald as well.)

Since that first hit novel, though, “Tony” had written two flops. Money is now also short. (Both yet again also echoes of Scott and Zelda.) After his latest manuscript is bluntly rejected by his publisher, “Tony” retreats with “Dora” to a locked up old country house he and “Dora” still own in Connecticut, but had not been to visit in years.

[From The Wedding Night Photo by me, September 23, 2021.]

There “Tony” is approached by the neighboring Polish “Novaks,” including Sten as the daughter, “Manya”; their family is among recently arrived Polish immigrants who tobacco farm. (Yes, they do grow tobacco still in Connecticut.) “Manya’s” father offers to buy some of “Tony’s” unused land so he can plant more tobacco, and that sale ends “Tony’s” and “Dora’s” immediate money troubles. The problem is “Dora” hates rural Connecticut and now that they have some money from the land sale she wants to return to partying in New York City; but “Tony” does not. So “Dora” leaves and “Tony” stays behind to try to write. (Uh, oh.) “Tony” is also getting to know “Manya” better, and the more he gets to know her the more interested in her he is becoming… and she finds herself becoming “Tony’s “muse” for his new manuscript. Meanwhile “Manya” is supposed to be married off to a Polish guy (a very young Ralph Bellamy) she does not really want to marry, but whom her father insists she will marry because she will do what she is told because she “is Polish, not American.”

The film deserves to be seen and since it is not especially well-known I would not want to spoil it by revealing anything more.

If you have not heard of Anna Sten that is probably because Goldwyn did not renew her contract after this film. Wikipedia notes that Goldwyn had brought her to America mostly because he was sure she would be the next “Greta Garbo.” (At that time, all of the non-Garbo studios were desperate for their own “Garbo.”) Having seen this film, though, I thought Goldwyn blew that “scouting” of her big-time and was therefore badly unfair to her: Sten was a good actor, but she was NOT a “Greta Garbo.”

It is not as if Goldwyn did not do his best to try to make Sten another “Garbo.” The trouble was that the real Garbo projected a certain presence on-screen – sultry, dangerous, mysterious and the list goes on; words often fail – that is really impossible to put your finger on: you just know it when you see it. Not every woman who looked somewhat like her and was dressed up like her and had a northern or eastern European accent in English could pull *that* off. That’s why Garbo was Garbo: she was unique.

Sten is playing here far more of a “sweet girl next door” type and she does so well and seems very comfortable doing so. In fact I could not have imagined Garbo playing Sten’s role here: Garbo would have been too glamorous and miscast as a Polish farm girl in Connecticut, whereas Sten is completely plausible. Sadly, though, Sten was being asked by Goldwyn overall career-wise to be what she could not be and naturally that did not work out. She went on to make other films elsewhere, but never had a big hit and never became a “big” star. She retired from films, according to Wiki, in the early 1960s.

For a mid-1930s film unsurprisingly it has now some “dated” aspects also. (“Tony’s” stereotypical Japanese servant is one annoying example.) My biggest criticism is the ending: I thought it did not ring true at all – especially regarding “Dora’s” behavior. However in the Hollywood “studio system” of that era, in which films were churned out en masse weekly, some boss probably yelled at the writers, “This isn’t War and Peace! Just finish it!”

And with that, I abruptly end this blog post. LOL! Have a good weekend, wherever you are. 🙂

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