Saturday, October 10, 2009
THE LOVE TRAP (1929)
"The Love Trap" (1929) is a rare part silent/part talkie that is one of my favorite romantic comedies. Directed by William Wyler in one of his earliest full-length features, "The Love Trap" is a charming and entertaining Cinderella story. Laura La Plante plays Evelyn Todd, a dancer and aspiring actress who is fired from her chorus line job. Since she desperately needs the money, Evelyn accepts her friend's invitation to a wealthy man's house party where a girl can make fifty dollars just for showing up. The owner of the house attempts to seduce Evelyn and this is observed by Judge Harrington, whom Evelyn had attempted to flirt with. Offended by the wealthy man's advances, Evelyn leaves the party without her fifty dollars.
Upon returning home, Evelyn finds all her belongings on the street as she has been evicted from her apartment for not paying the rent. It begins to rain but luckily she is rescued by handsome Peter Harrington, played by Neil Hamilton, who turns out to be a wealthy businessman. Peter marries Evelyn after a whirlwind romance. Evelyn now has to contend with Peter's arrogant mother as well as his narrow-minded uncle, Judge Harrington, who recognizes her from the house party he had attended. When the judge tries to bribe Evelyn into divorcing his nephew, she sets a trap for his uncle who misinterpreted an incident that happened at the house party.
"The Love Trap" is worth watching just for being a curiosity from the transition from silents to talkies. The first half of the film is a wonderful silent picture with continuous music and sound effects while the sound scenes have such engaging dialogue. Neil Hamilton, who was quite handsome, and Laura La Plante give great performances as the young lovers during the silent part of the film. However, when they begin talking I noticed that Hamilton's performance remains strong while La Plante seems a bit awkward. La Plante was a great comedienne with an expressive face that was ideal for silent films, but apparently she was having a difficult time acting verbally. It is not surprising that the advent of talkies shortened her career. Hamilton, on the other hand, learned quickly and had a lengthy film career.
I love the film not only because I am a fan of romantic comedies but also because of its exquisite sets and jazz age costumes. Director William Wyler certainly shows brilliance in this early work. The ending of the film is both amusing and surprising; the heroine exposes sexual hypocrisy and demonstrates she is more mature than the men around her.
* It is interesting to note that Neil Hamilton is best known to audiences as Police Commissioner Gordon in the "Batman" TV series. Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch in "The Wizard of Oz", was a distant cousin.