FERNANDO’s CORNER ~ posted August 21st, 2017
(RKO Radio) (Dir: Tay Garnett)
“PRESTIGE”, in my opinion, is one of Ann Harding’s weakest films but is nevertheless worthwhile as an historical document of an Era.
In Scott O’Brien’s biography of Harding, I read that Ann did not want to do the film, and after it was finished she wanted to destroy it or something like that. The film is instilled with “White Supremacy” and a Colonialist’s point of view. Ann is betrothed to a French Officer who’s sent to Indochina to take charge of a penal colony. She’s the daughter of an Army Officer (Ian McLaren) and marries and follows this French Officer to the middle of the jungle.
Melvyn Douglas plays the thankless role of the Officer…a weakling. Ann manages to give a good performance and has some sincere moments on screen. Especially noteworthy is the sequence with her father in the picture, which might have been quite reminiscent of Harding’s own father who was a US Army General. That moment is particularly honest in spite of what her screen father tells her: (seems she has to go to Douglas and take him her race as a gift and the prestige of White Men).
Of course the natives are portrayed as drunkards, delinquents, mentally inferior, wild etc. In one scene, Douglas even gets to furiously whip the natives to demonstrate his supremacy. There’s even a black actor (Clarence Muse) whose presence among Asians is not explained (and who ends up being a hero…the only one in the film).
Adolphe Menjou is fine as the cynical captain, giving a portrayal reminiscent of his performances in “Morocco” and “A Farewell to Arms.” The location shooting in the Florida Everglades IMO captures the atmosphere of Indochina.
BTW, everyone sweats like hell in the film save for Ann’s character and Menjou’s. Odd.
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