Archive for July 2, 2021

Sparring Filchers

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on July 2, 2021 by dcairns

THE NOTORIOUS SOPHIE LANG is only just a pre-code, but it’s a pre-code to the core, dealing as it does with a couple of competing jewel thieves. The title character is played by Gertrude Michael with a good deal of skill and charisma — the plot requires her to assume fake identities and GM is fully up to the task of putting on a Garbo voice and so on. Her romantic partner / competitor, Paul Cavanagh, is blander, but still capable. Best of all, Sophie has a long-suffering sidekick played by Alison Skipworth, who is always good value.

Co-directed by Ralph Murphy and William Cameron Menzies under what circumstances I know not — need to get the Menzies bio! — this looks cheap but is crammed with improbable twists and moves at a good lick. When circumstances force our heroine to flee across rooftops in just her undies, she drops through a skylight and lands in the dressing room of a fashion show, surrounded by other women in their undies. The coincidence is ridiculous but the movie wins points for coming up with some kind of a solution, and for showing us lots of women in their undies (apparently Ann Sheridan is in there somewhere, paying the bills while losing her Texas accent).

We don’t get any of Menzies’ more vertiginous compositions: the main stylistic device is a quick pan in wide shot from one half of the set to the other, a way of adding verve while saving time.

I realise I’ve seen the star in multiple films but she was always in the background of someone like Mae West, whom you can’t look away from and who didn’t give anyone else good lines. Away from that kind of gravitational pull, she’s zesty and appealing.

There was an attempt to spin Sophie into a series, but the code had kicked in so she couldn’t steal any jewels, which must have taken some of the fun out. Also, they couldn’t tempt Skipworth back.

THE NOTORIOUS SOPHIE LANG stars Calpurnia; Lord Penrose; Sir Joseph Whemple; Miss Mabel Jellyman; Lord Basil Epping; Apartment Thug (uncredited); Mr. Throstle; Prof. Summerlee; and Randy Monaghan.