“I wonder if it’s hard to be respectable”
“It takes a lot of money”
Ever since I saw a screen still of Norma Shearer from her 1925 silent film Lady of the Night I had to see it. I looked up the story and it sounded alright but the still I had seen of Shearer was so unlike the other characters I had seen her play. She looked like a rough girl who has had the weight of the world on her shoulders and has one of the best 1920s tough girl attitudes.
Shearer plays dual roles in this film. She plays Molly a girl who has been through rough times. On the day she was born her father was sent to jail for twenty-years for an unknown crime. Eighteen years later Molly is released from a reform school along with two other girls. Her mother and father are both gone and she is left alone to fend for herself. Shearer’s other role is as the good girl Florence Banning who is the same age as Molly. Her father was the judge who sent Molly’s father to prison.
At a dancehall one night Molly is introduced by her friend Chunky Dunn to a guy name David Page. Molly and David really like each other. One night he comes over for dinner and announces that he has created an invention that can break into bank vaults. David says he can sell the invention to crooks and make a fortune. Molly quickly turns to him saying not to sell to crooks if his invention can get into the vault surely it can be used to keep people out.
David goes to Judge Banning and the bankers to draw up a contract for his invention. The meeting takes place at Judge Banning’s house. As he goes to leave Florence comes into the room. David is completely taken with her and she with him. Florence was looking for her father but forgets what she wanted to say.
Molly waits in her apartment for David to come back from his meeting. Chunky waits with her. He really loves her and is concerned that once David sells his invention he will leave her behind. Chunky says he will marry her if she wants. When David comes back he talks excitedly about the meeting and also mentions his meeting with Florence. Molly’s face falls in sadness.
A title card informs that David has sold himself to the Bannings. Molly misses David and goes up to his workshop to see if he was there. Meanwhile David is at a party with Florence. She asks to if she could see his workshop sometime and he gets all excited. They kiss at the party, Florence thinks it was her fault and is wicked for what she has done but he just says he loves her.
The next day Molly walks in on Florence and David in his shop. Molly tries not to look upset and walks out. She can hear Florence tell David she can see Molly is in love with him and he respond that he is not in love with Molly she is just a pal and that she is Chunky girl. Florence says she loves him but Molly has a greater claim to him.
Outside Molly sees Florence’s car and takes a sit in it. Florence walks out and gets in the car. The two women talk to each other about David. Florence says she would marry David if it was not for her. Molly tells her to marry David to make him happy. They hug each other.
Chunky has been following Molly. He was waiting outside her apartment for her when he sees David go up to her place. Chunky tells him to either marry Molly or get out. Molly walks in and says she and Chunky are going to get married. David leaves to tell Florence that they can be married. Chunky goes to Molly to give her a hug and a kiss and she pushes him down to the floor. He says to himself it is like they are already married.
David tells Florence about Molly and Chunky. She says she was right about Molly loving him.
Norma Shearer was excellent in her dual roles. She was much more fun to watch as the tough girl Molly. There was more emotional depth to Molly and more character development. You are made to feel bad for Molly and Shearer does that job. Her facial expressions were great. I loved the part when Molly was looking at a woman in a magazine and how the woman was a lady. She copies her outfit to the one in the magazine as well as the pose. I liked Shearer in that scene but she as excellent in any of her scenes as Molly. The character was not as rough and tough as I thought she was going to be but I did not mind that at all. As Florence she was the beautiful virginal rich girl who never had a care in her world. Shearer really did look beautiful in the part.
If you read about this film on any other site you will find one interesting tidbit that comes up over and over again. The film was made in 1925 when there were no special effects that could be done outside the camera. You will remember that Molly and Florence hugged in the car towards the end. A stand in had to be used for back shots but in the scene where they hug you can quickly see the side of the face of the stand in. The stand in was a twenty year old Joan Crawford. Hollywood Mark Vieria wrote in his books Hollywood Dreams Made Real: Irving Thalberg and the Rise of MGM:
Molly is a reform school graduate. For over-the-shoulder shots director Monta Bell used the newly-arrived Lucille LeSeur, who was later known as Joan Crawford. ‘My first appearance in front of the moving camera was anonymous,’ wrote Crawford in 1959. ‘While Norma played the Tough Girl (full-front, close-up) I played the Lady (with my back to the camera).’ Shearer was smart enough to recognize Crawford’s talent, raw though it may have been. ‘I found myself sitting in a car,’ she remembered, ‘and in the other corner was a girl with the most beautiful eyes. They were the biggest eyes I had ever seen. But they didn’t trust me. I could see that. They never have.’
Lady of the Night is a very good Norma Shearer vehicle. It does not have a complicated plot nor is Shearer yet the characters of her Pre-Code films. Director Monta Bell and Shearer give the film raw real emotion. Lady of the Night is a very good silent film and one to see.