This week’s mystery movie was the 1929 MGM picture “The Last of Mrs. Cheyney,” which was released in sound (8,651 feet) and silent (6,484 feet) versions.
With Norma Shearer, Basil Rathbone, Herbert Bunston, George Barraud, Hedda Hopper, Moon Carroll, Madeline Seymour, Cyril Chadwick, George K. Arthur, Finch Smiles and Maude Turner Gordon. From the play by Frederick Lonsdale, continuity by Hans Kraly and Claudine West, recording by Douglas Shearer, art direction by Cedric Gibbons, photography by William Daniels, gowns by Adrian, editing by Conrad A. Nervig. Directed by Sidney Franklin.
Previewing “The Last of Mrs. Cheyney” for this week, I found it pretty much a creaky old antique. Some of the staging and cutting is bizarre and the actors are forced to declaim their lines for the benefit of the new microphones. The studio was clearly grappling with the advent of sound (it was the studio’s first film to use an optical soundtrack rather than discs). It’s interesting to see Rathbone as a leading man, rather than his later roles of Sherlock Holmes, one of his Warner Bros. villains, or the scheming opportunist of “Kind Lady.” Bunston’s performance now seems terribly antiquated and Barraud’s disappearance from films after 1937 (he lived to 1970) is unfortunate. He later wrote a number of screenplays, including “Stolen Life,” “Death Was a Passenger” and “Portrait of a Matador.”
Writing in the New York Times (Aug. 12, 1929), Mordaunt Hall said:
A creditable talking pictorial version of Frederick Lonsdale’s play, “The Last of Mrs. Cheyney,” is the chief attraction at the Capitol. In it Norma Shearer plays the role of the captivating Mrs. Cheyney, which was so nicely acted on the stage by Ina Claire. Miss Shearer’s work is remarkably good. She talks charmingly and, of course, she is extremely good-looking. This speaking likeness of Mrs. Cheyney makes that resourceful woman of the world a thoroughly engaging person, clever and sometimes Wildean in her stinging comments to her society companions.
It is a well-arranged picture, but nevertheless one in which it is not difficult to detect where Mr. Lonsdale left off and where the scenario writers tried their hand at dialogue. Most of it was reproduced far too loudly yesterday afternoon, but from time to time it was evident that the projection operator was trying to obtain lower tones that were not muffled. The voices would be all the better if they were more natural, for in the Capitol promenade yesterday afternoon it hardly sounded like a comedy.
…There are a number of interesting dramatic passages that are pictured with considerable cunning. The dialogue goes on for some time, and Sidney Franklin, the director, keeps his players busy, which is a relief after seeing talking screen images standing in the same spot until they have had their way. And in this regard Miss Shearer and Mr. Rathbone seem to know their lines thoroughly and, in most of the scenes, those uncomfortable pauses have been avoided.
For Monday, we have a mystery gent. Would you believe it? He does not approve of such goings-on.
Update: This is Herbert Bunston.
For Tuesday, we have a mystery woman. You can imagine her opinion of such goings-on.
Update: This is Maude Turner Gordon.
Brain Trust roll call: Patrick (Monday’s mystery gent).
For Wednesday, we have this debonair mystery gent and a mystery woman.
Update: This is George Barraud.
Update: Here’s another shot of cigarette woman with George Barraud.
I’m fairly certain this is Moon Carroll. The dialogue doesn’t always use the characters’ names as they appear on imdb. George refers to her as “lady.”
Here’s a shot of cigarette woman with two mystery companions. Oh those hats!
For Thursday, Monday’s mystery chap has a not-terribly-mysterious companion, which narrows it down – if only a bit. All will become clear Friday.
Update: This is Hedda Hopper and Herbert Bunston.
For Friday, our entirely unmysterious leads.
Update: Basil Rathbone and Norma Shearer.
Note: I didn’t expect anyone to try to identify Wednesday’s cigarette woman since her face is hidden. This did not deter several people and I applaud their dedication to the mystery movie!
Brain Trust roll call: Mary Mallory (mystery movie and all mystery guests), Howard Mandelbaum (mystery movie, all mystery guests except the mystery woman with the cigarette on Wednesday), David Inman (Thursday’s mystery woman), Anne Papineau (Thursday’s mystery woman), Sylvia E. (mystery movie, all mystery guests except the mystery woman with the cigarette) Mike Hawks (Thursday’s mystery woman) and L.C. (mystery movie and mystery cast).