Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Cheat (1931)

I haven't watched many of Tallulah Bankhead's films, and never really thought of her as a pre-code glamour gal, but after viewing The Cheat I see her in a very different light.  The is the third time the story was filmed, after the 1915 and 1923 versions.  This version was directed by George Abbott and stars Tallulah Bankhead, Irving Pichel, and Harvey Stephens.  When Elsa Carlyle (Bankhead) foolishly gambles away $10,000 on a hunch she uses a charity's money to replace her losses.   Her husband Jeffrey (Stephens) is constantly scolding her because of her extravagant spending, so when he refuses to invest in a supposed "sure thing" tip on the stock market Elsa takes cash from their safe at home and invests the money herself.  The "sure thing" turns out to be a flop, so now she is in deep trouble.

Elsa reluctantly accepts an expensive oriental gown from art collector Hardy Livingstone (Pichel), and figures that he'll only want one thing in return for the gift but tries to act naive.  When she loses her investment money and is embarrassed to tell her husband, she has no choice but to try to get the money from Livingstone because she knows he would do anything to have her.  He offers to replace the cash if she "would only be a little nicer" to him. 

When her husband secures a deal at work, he tells her that they're rich and offers to payoff her debts.  Elsa now thinks her troubles are over but they are really only beginning.  When the time comes to pay off the slime-ball, money won't satisfy him.  As a sort of fetish, Livingstone has small dolls made up to resemble his female conquests, as sort of trophies, and he won't be satisfied until he adds Elsa to his collection.

When he reveals his intentions to her she resists, they scuffle, a shot rings out, and the swine hits the ground (sorry I got a little carried away).  A brief courtroom drama ensues and results in a riot.  And that's about as close as I'll get to revealing the ending. 

Director George Abbott directed three other films in 1931, Secrets of a Secretary with Claudette Colbert, Stolen Heaven with Nancy Carroll, and My Sin with Bankhead and Fredric March.  Pichel starred as Fagin in the 1933 film version of Oliver Twist and appeared in many other films.  He also directed many films including The Most Dangerous Game (1932) and the science fiction classic Destination Moon (1950). 

Pichel does a nice job in the film.  Stephens is rock solid as the loving husband.  Bankhead is cute, but I can think of a few other pre-code cuties that I also enjoy watching.  Of course the the film has references to drug use, sex, infidelity, etc.  Everyone knows that in these pre-code films morals and political correctness go right out the window, so I'll refrain from giving my usual  "view in the context ..." speech.

With a running time of about 68 minutes it goes by pretty quickly, and a good thing too because I don't think I could have taken much more of that scumbag casanova.

Overall a pretty good film with a nice twist at the end.  So if you have an hour or so to kill, check it out ...  I think you'll enjoy it ...


  1. Dave,
    Your review was interesting! I've never thought of Tallulah as a 'glamour girl' but perhaps that's because I've read a couple of books about her life and off set antics before doing a bio post on her. If you ever come across "The Sewing Circle" about girls who preferred girls in Hollywood please read it. I'm very fond of Tallulah and I thought her performance in Hitchcock's Lifeboat was very intriguing.

    Glad you enjoyed this film and reviewed it! A great read.

  2. Page,

    That book sounds really interesting, I love anything about old Hollywood. I'll have to keep an eye out for it.

    Like I said, I'm not that familiar with much of Ms. Bankhead's work (except for Lifeboat) but I heard that she could be quite a handful at times. I'll have to check out your bio post for some more info about her ...

    Thanks ...

  3. Hi Dave,
    Sorry it took so long to get back here! I'm always running behind these days.
    Here's the link to my Tallulah bio if you get time to read it.


  4. Dave - Reading your review of "The Cheat" I realized that the only two films of Tallulah Bankhead's I've seen are "Lifeboat" and "A Royal Scandal" - both from the mid-'40s, with Bankhead playing, obviously, very mature women. I'm very curious to see her in something much earlier from her younger years. Thanks for the suggestion.

  5. Page -
    I'm looking forward to reading your bio on Ms. Bankhead. Thanks for the link ...

  6. Eve -

    Ms. Bankhead was almost 30 years old when she starred in "The Cheat", not exactly a spring chicken, but she played the part very well. By the time "Lifeboat" came along 12 or 13 years later you can tell how her acting skills were much more refined and polished.

    "The Cheat" is definitely worth checking out, I hope you enjoy it ...

  7. I'm so glad, I stopped by to read your wonderful movie review about the film, "The Cheat", which sounds like a movie I would like.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  8. Dawn -
    It's a pretty good film ... I hope you enjoy it ...