As I have made clear, I love old movies. There are so many wonderful ones, with solid scripts, able direction, fine performances . . . and then there are the other ones.
Some of these older films are so bad they are almost good, offering a certain unintentional hilarity and a glimpse into the careers of actors who thankfully went on to (much) better things.
Case in point: an early talkie, 1929’s The Squall, directed by Alexander Korda and featuring two future luminaries of the silver screen, Loretta Young and Myrna Loy, along with the always delightful Zasu Pitts in a character role as the faithful servant.
If you’ve only ever seen Myrna as the sleuthing socialite in the sophisticated, witty Thin Man series or the “perfect wife” in films such as Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, this film is an eye-opener. Fact is, most of Myrna’s early film roles capitalized on her unusual beauty to cast her as the exotic foreigner, enigmatic and sexy, quite the femme fatale. The Squall, set in early 20th century Europe, is no different.
This time, her skin darkened with makeup and her hair a wild riot of curls (she actually looks like she could be in a vintage Madonna video), Myrna plays a Gypsy who seeks shelter in the home of a happy, well-to-do Hungarian farming family during a terrible storm. Insisting she’d been captured by the Gypsies as a child and terribly abused, she throws herself on the farm family’s mercy.
Of course, she is not the poor innocent teenager she pretends to be, but a wily, seductive creature determined to vamp it up with everything in trousers within a 50-mile radius. She starts with the servant and soon has him singing love songs to the livestock and works her way up to the master and his son, causing all that happy family harmony to hit a very sour note.
Everything is so over-the-top here–the dialogue, which had me laughing in all the wrong places, and the performances, which, for the most part, are just plain bad.
Alice Joyce, who plays the matriarch, was a veteran silent screen star, but seems very incomfortable here speaking her lines. Joyce gives them the oddest inflections at times, as if she were speaking something other than her native language. She retired from the screen shortly thereafter. Can’t blame her if this was the typical quality of the talkie scripts beings offered to her.
Loretta Young is only 16 in The Squall, a fresh-faced and physically expressive beauty, but her line delivery is so wooden here you think to yourself, poor kid, she can only get better. (And thankfully, she did. Went on to win an Academy Award in later years.)
And Myrna. Oh, Myrna. You did the best you could with what little they gave you. Thank goodness the Thin Man came along a few years later and you escaped Exotic Evil Vamp Hell. Otherwise your career would very likely not have lasted some 50-plus years.
Well, everybody has got to start somewhere. And you were quite the fetching sexpot, even with that awful pidgin English.
“Me Nubi! Me good girl! Me stay here . . . Always the Gypsies, they sing. Weird and sad. When the big sun have breath of fire that burn, and when the pale moon look from behind cloud, and breathe air cold as death, they sing.”
Turner Classic Movie host Robert Osborne describes this film as a guilty pleasure. It’s certainly not a good film, but yes, in its own way, it’s quite entertaining, if a good 20 minutes too long. If it pops up on your television, you might want to give it a watch.
You could have a drinking game centered around each new attempt by Nubi the Nymphomaniac to seduce some guy.