Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1929)



Norma Shearer is one of those old actresses who was not outrageously amazing in the talent department but oozed sexuality and charm to the point where you overlook her lack of talent. Playing the titular role in The Last of Mrs. Cheyney has to be one of the perfect roles Shearer played in her career: she was a con woman working with a group of men to get money from rich people. Never was there such a perfect role for Shearer where she had to turn on her charm and sexuality to get what she wanted. If you have ever seen any of Shearer’s films she is almost always playing a con artist to get the man she wants but Mrs. Cheyney was her first (literal) con artist and she was wonderful.

            Fay Cheyney claims to be a young rich widowed woman from Australia. She is newly arrived in England and holds a small charity concert to lure the rich, social people in. One of the rich people invited to the charity is Lord Arthur Dilling (Basil Rathbone). They have obviously met before and Dilling is infatuated with Fay. He tells her he phoned her several times and she never answered, she retorts “I don’t care to be alone with you even on the telephone.” She is clearly messing with his love and devotion for her and enjoying every minute of it.
            As Arthur is escorted out he thinks he recognizes Fay’s butler Charles but he does not know where. When the rest of the guests leave her “employees” start yelling away looking for something to drink and eat. We find out that Fay is a con artist along with these men. They plan on Fay being asked to spend the weekend at this one woman’s home so they can steal her pearls.
            The plan works and Fay is invited to the lady’s home. The one thing Fay did not plan when she joined this group was that she would fall in love with Dilling. She tries to keep away from him so she can play an older naïve man named Elton into marrying her but Dilling keeps pursuing her. That night he notices that whenever a bird sound is heard Fay makes a signal with her light. He finds that Charles is nearby making the bird calls and that she is signaling him. When everyone is asleep he stays up and sees Fay sneak into the lady’s room. He catches her in the act and creates a fuss. Dilling will not leave her room so she risks being caught and calls for the butler. He begins to panic he did not think she would really ring so now his reputation is on the line. Dilling decides to be a gentleman and tell everyone that he forced his way in but Fay saves his reputation and tells the other visitors that she stole the pearls. Charles comes into the room through the balcony to see what is going on and to try to save Fay. Dilling realizes that he once got Charles out of jail in Monte Carlo after he had stolen something from him. 
            The next morning they have called the police. Unfortunately their plan does not work because Elton had written a letter to Fay telling her what he thinks of the people in their group. Now they feel they cannot give her up to the police she has blackmail against them and if that gets out to society they will all be ruined. They decide that Elton will pay her along with air fare back to Australia. Fay, Charles, and Dilling come down to breakfast. The three of them play a trick on the others. Fay and Charles say they are willing to go to jail. Out of that comes some sympathy.
            In the end Fay and Charles are able to con their way out of jail by ripping up a check and the letter and Fay is given the opportunity to get a business started by Elton. Since Basil Rathbone is the main actor he and Norma Shearer wind up together. He kisses her on the cheek saying “That is the last of Mrs. Cheyney” then kisses her on the lips and says something about that being to the future Mrs. Dilling.
            Norma Shearer as I said at the beginning of this post was brilliant. This was only her second sound film. This was just the beginning of the sexually confident Shearer audiences would see again and again in the pre-code years to come. Her role is nothing like that of Jerry Martin in The Divorcee but that character is just behind the surface in Fay Cheyney. You can see that sexual grasp of hers in her eyes.
            This was Basil Rathbone’s first sound film. His eye makeup will not allow you to take him too seriously. His character was alright he was a bit of an arrogant ass. The rest of the cast was alright. The actor who played Elton was incredibly annoying.
            The Last of Mrs. Cheyney is not one of the greatest films ever made but it is good. Anything Norma Shearer pre-code is incredible to watch though because like I said she just had this booming confidence. It is a genuine confidence not a fake one. The end is satisfying because Fay and Charles get away with a crime. The Last of Mrs. Cheyney was remade in 1937 with William Powell, Robert Montgomery, and Joan Crawford. I refuse to see this one because no one could get away with a crime and Joan Crawford is in it in a hand-me-down role from her rival Norma Shearer… maybe I should see that because Crawford got all of Shearer’s passes and hand-me-downs haha. The Last of Mrs. Cheyney from 1929 is hard to find so if TCM airs the film again definitely see it.