This week’s mystery movies were the 1937 Warner Bros. picture “Confession” and the 1935 German film “Mazurka.”
“Confession” stars Kay Francis, Ian Hunter, Basil Rathbone, Jane Bryan, Donald Crisp, Mary Maguire and Robert Barrat. “Mazurka” stars Pola Negri, Albrecht Schoenhals, Ingeborg Theek, Franziska Kinz and Paul Hartmann. Directed by Willi Forst.
“Confession”: Original screenplay by Hans Rameau. English adaptation by Julius J. Epstein and Margaret LeVino.
Dialogue direction by Stanley Logan, musical score and songs by Peter Kreuder, lyrics by Jack Scholl, musical direction by Leo F. Forbstein.
Photography by Sid Hickox, edited by James Gibbon, art direction by Anton Grot and gowns by Orry-Kelly.
Directed by Joe May.
After describing Ian Hunter as wooden in last week’s “The Girl From 10th Avenue,” I rummaged around in the archives to see if I had any of his other films – besides “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” I found “Confession” (1937), figuring that would give him a second chance.
The answer, unfortunately, is that Hunter has very little screen time as Kay Francis’ husband. He spends most of the film off in World War I, and it’s a bit of a mystery why he got second billing. Basil Rathbone has a much meatier part as eccentric, seductive composer/pianist Michael Michailow and in “Confession,” he is a next-level cad. After ruining the marriage of opera star Vera Kowalska (Francis) and Leonide Kirow (Hunter), he is out to seduce Kowalska’s impressionable, innocent daughter (Jane Bryan), raised by her stepmother with no idea of her true parentage. A gun is involved. Also a trial. The prosecution declares the proceedings most irregular. Etc.
A bit of homework revealed that Warner Bros. obtained the distribution rights for the 1935 German film “Mazurka,” starring Pola Negri, but opted to remake the film virtually shot by shot. “Confession” uses Peter Kreuder’s excellent music from “Mazurka” and the opening credits are merely superimposed over the German ones. Unfortunately, “Mazurka” was only available to me in a terrible YouTube copy.
Remakes were common in Hollywood, even going so far as to incorporate footage from earlier versions. I did a pair years ago with “Broadway Bill” (Frank Capra at Columbia, 1934) and “Riding High,” (Frank Capra at Paramount, 1950) in which Clarence Muse, Ward Bond and Douglass Dumbrille were brought back to shoot new footage. I also compared the English and Spanish versions of Laurel and Hardy’s “Chickens Come Home” and “Politiquerias.” Both of them were made simultaneously by the same studio with an English-speaking cast and Spanish-speaking cast. But this is the first case I can recall in which a U.S. studio bought a foreign film and remade it essentially shot for shot for an American audience.
I can find only one reference linking “Confession” to “Mazurka” and that’s an article about sex in films (no, nothing is new) in Photoplay, September 1937, saying “The French version of this, called ‘Mazurka,’ even shocked the French.” Such was the nature of fact-checking before the Internet.
Aside from the curious origins of “Confession,” it’s a pretty good movie. Basil Rathbone is incredibly creepy in stalking Kowalska and then her daughter. It took me a while to accept Kay Francis in a blond wig, but I managed.
Here is a mother-love story that has been very well acted and directed. Although the story is rather familiar, it has been given clever treatment and by virtue of Joe May’s direction holds the interest until the end.
….Kay Francis’ work is her best in sometime, while Basil Rathbone, Donald Crisp and Ian Hunter are fine in their roles. Jane Bryan and Mary Maguire do pleasing work.
“Confession” is listed as Kay Francis’ latest vehicle, but it is not the star who contributes the picture’s better moments. Such moments are in the capable hands of Basil Rathbone and young Jane Bryan. As the heavy of the piece, Rathbone is at his suave best, and Jane Bryan, as a young musician infatuated by his charm, plays one of the season’s finest ingenue roles. The early part of the film, which follows the romance between the worldly composer (Rathbone) and the young girl, is excellent drama, beautifully directed by the European, Joe May. It is when Miss Francis arrives on the screen, in a blond wig and singing at a honky-tonk cafe, that the drama’s pace slackens and eventually loses the advantage of its fine beginning.
Climax of the picture is a courtroom scene, with Kay Francis on trial for the murder of Rathbone. In a series of flashbacks, she is allowed to tell her life story, as well as parade a series of Orry-Kelly’s gowns.
….The picture belongs to Mr. Rathbone and Miss Bryan.
JTM, writing in the New York Times (Aug. 19, 1937) said:
No matter to what clime the Warner cameras travel in search of Old World decor to piece out a production schedule that can’t, obviously, be composed entirely of important matters like “The Life of Emile Zola,” Miss Kay Francis keeps turning up, like the black queen in the fortune teller’s cards, presaging ill fortune, misunderstanding, heartbreak and a charmingly slurred consonant or so.
The Strand’s current “Confession” is, however, the first film that has discovered Miss Francis performing that neatest of tricks, darkly brooding in a blond peruke.
….The story is not particularly well conceived, its tragedy growing out of a situation that a good, plain heart-to-heart talk might have cleared up in a trice, even in prissy pre-war Poland.
…. The refreshing note is the presence in the cast of Miss Jane Bryan, one of the most promising of the Warner stock players, who seems to provide a concisely sincere performance no matter how artificial the rest of the piece may be.
This week is going to be a little different. But fun (at least for me).
For Monday, we have a group of mystery guests. I think it’s obvious how they feel about such goings-on.
Update: This is Patricia Walthall, center, with Emmett Vogan, rear right, as the sharpshooter who inadvertently provides the gun Kowalska uses to kill Michailow.
Also for Monday, we have this group of mystery guests. Again, their feelings about such goings-on are clear.
It’s unclear who these actors are. I posted the picture to show how closely “Confession” copied “Mazurka’s” framing.
For Tuesday, we have this elegant mystery woman.
And here she is without a Champagne glass.
Update: This is Laura Hope Crews
And we also have this mystery woman. A well-dressed mystery gent seems to be menacing her.
Update: Mary Mallory identifies this actress as Margrete Schon.
For “Hm Wednesday,” we have this mysterious train station.
Update: This is the slightly cropped version in “Confession.”
Und ja, we have this mysterious bahnhof. Sehr mysteriös!
Update: This is the original from “Mazurka.”
Also for Wednesday, we have this mysterious gentleman.
Update: This is Donald Crisp.
Und dieser mysteriöse Herr.
Update: This is Friedrich Kayssler.
Brain Trust roll call: Bob Hansen (Tuesday’s mystery woman No. 1), Howard Mandelbaum (both mystery movies and Tuesday’s mystery woman No. 1), Sheila (Tuesday’s mystery woman No. 1) and Thom and Megan (Tuesday’s mystery woman No. 1).
For “Aha Thursday,” we have a mystery gent and two mystery companions.
Update: This is Ferdinand Munier, Mary Maguire and Jane Bryan.
Remarkably enough, we have this mystery gent and two more mysterious companions.
Update: The same shot from “Mazurka,” with Ingeborg Theek, right. Howard Mandelbaum identifies the actress in the center as Inge List. Mary Mallory identifies her as Ruth Eweler.
Next, we have this dashing mystery fellow. His companion has been cropped out due to insufficient mysteriousness and will appear Friday.
Update: And there’s our mystery leading lady.
Update: This is Ian Hunter and Kay Francis.
And, amazingly enough, we have this dashing mystery fellow.
Update: This is Paul Hartmann.
Finally, we have this mystery woman. She does not approve of such goings-on.
Update: This is Veda Ann Borg.
And in a most astounding coincidence, we have this mystery woman. And even more stunning, she also does not approve of such goings-on.
Update: Howard Mandelbaum identifies this actress as Eva Schmid-Kayser.
Brain Trust roll call: Mary Mallory (mystery movie Nos. 1 and 2, Tuesday’s mystery women Nos. 1 and 2, Wednesday’s mystery judge No. 1), Floyd Thursby (mystery movie No. 1 and Wednesday’s mystery judge No. 1), Mike Hawks (mystery movie Nos. 1 and 2, Monday’s frontiersman No. 1, Tuesday’s mystery woman No. 1 and Wednesday’s mystery judge No. 1), Sheila (mystery movie Nos. 1 and 2, Wednesday’s mystery judge), Howard Mandelbaum (Wednesday’s mystery judge No. 1), David Inman (Wednesday’s mystery judge No. 1), Benito (Wednesday’s mystery judge No. 1), Blackwing Jenny (mystery movies Nos. 1 and 2, Tuesday’s mystery woman No. 1 and Wednesday’s mystery judge No. 1) and Thom and Megan (mystery movies Nos. 1 and 2, Wednesday’s mystery judges Nos. 1 and 2).
For Friday, we have a mystery cad and a mysterious impressionable young woman in mystery movie No. 1.
Update: This is Basil Rathbone and Jane Bryan.
We also have a mystery cad and a mysterious impressionable young woman in mystery movie No. 2.
Update: This is Ingeborg Theek and Albrecht Schoenhals.
Also for Friday, we have our pensive, mystery leading lady of mystery movie No. 1.
Update: This is Kay Francis.
And we also have this pensive mystery leading lady of mystery movie No. 2.
Update: This is Pola Negri.
Brain Trust roll call: Mary Mallory (Wednesday’s mystery judge No. 2, Thursday’s mystery guests in mystery movie No. 1 and mystery guests in mystery movie No. 2), Howard Mandelbaum (Thursday’s mystery guests in mystery movie No. 1 and mystery guests in mystery movie No. 2), Gary (mystery movies Nos. 1 and 2 and Wednesday’s mystery judge No. 1), Mike Hawks (Thursday’s mystery guests in mystery movie No. 1 and mystery movie No. 2), Sue Slutzky (mystery movies Nos. 1 and 2, Tuesday’s mystery woman No. 1, Wednesday’s mystery judge no. 1 and Thursday’s mysterious dashing fellow No. 1).
Note to Sylvia E.: That’s exactly what it is. 🙂