The Gorgeous Hussy (1936)

  • Okay – first thing’s first – I have skipped over this movie on TCM loads of times, because A) what a terrible title, and B) this has a rather abysmal rating on IMDb (5.5 stars, I think?). Despite these things, each time I’ve skipped it over, I’ve also paused to consider NOT skipping it over, because of the ridiculously stacked cast. This film has Joan Crawford, Robert Taylor, Melvyn Douglas, James Stewart (!), Lionel Barrymore, Franchot Tone, and Beulah Bondi. That’s insane, you guys.

Anyway…I’ve finally decided – today’s the day! Hooray, GORGEOUS HUSSY!

  • This movie is based on real people & events in the Andrew Jackson presidential age, but it apparently does a terrible job at sticking to the historical facts & telling the story accurately. I know very little about Peggy Eaton & how all of this went down in real life – so forgive me for not commenting on every last inaccuracy as it happens. I know there are glaring errors in the way certain characters are presented (several reviews I’ve read single out the absurdly inaccurate portrayal of John Randolph’s involvement, for instance) – but we’re just gonna look at it as a piece of film, and see how that part goes. Okay? Okay.
  • Relatedly, the movie begins with the following disclaimer:

“This story of Peggy Eaton and her times is not presented as a precise account of either – rather, as fiction founded upon historical fact. Except for historically prominent personages, the characters are fictional…”

So…there’s that.

  • Peggy O’Neal (Joan Crawford) is the daughter of an innkeeper/tavern owner. Everybody who is politically cool & relevant stays/hangs out there. Among those Cool & Relevant Men are Senator John Randolph (Melvyn Douglas), Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster (Sidney Toler), & Lieutenant Bow Timberlake (Robert Taylor). Randolph & Timberlake have the hots for Peggy, as does a non-importantly titled man named “Rowdy” Dow (James Stewart). The way these guys act, it’s like she’s the only girl in all of Washington, which is absurd. I mean – I adore Joan Crawford too, fellas – but clearly there are other fish in the sea, for men of your importance level.
  • Peggy (Randolph calls her Margaret, because he’s got more class than the rest of these people, or something) definitely is in love Melvyn at the beginning of this – but thinks he’s out of her league, and allows herself to thoroughly fall for R. Tay as a (highly satisfactory) replacement.
  • Meanwhile, a not-yet-president Jackson (for now he’s still just a senator) arrives (at the O’Neal inn) with wife Rachel (Beulah Bondi) in tow. Something tells me that Lionel Barrymore & Andrew Jackson have very little in common, personality-wise – so seeing a completely LB-ized version of Jackson is a very strange & almost jarring experience. Having someone with a much less…blatantly distinctive…screen persona would probably have worked a little better. But, you know, he’s LB, and I imagine that in 1935/36, if LB wanted to play Andrew Jackson – LB got to play Andrew Jackson, and that was just the end of it.
  • Anyway, apparently Andrew Jackson & Rachel are old buddies with the O’Neals. I guess the Jacksons always stay at their inn when they come into Washington. Cool.
  • Peggy (Margaret?) goes to John Randolph’s room at night & is like, ‘I love you, and I’m pretty sure you love me.’ John Randolph is like, ‘Nope.’ (Even though he does.) It’s not explicitly said why he rejects her – but I assume it has to do with their difference in social class?
  • There’s a very short-lived (but excellent) camera angle during the wagon ride to a dance. Bow & Peggy are talking very seriously in the foreground, and in the top right corner, you see an out-of-focus James Stewart peering over disapprovingly, behind them. The subtleness of it is surprising, & it’s an altogether cute on-camera happenstance.
  • Another super cute scene occurs when all of the dance-goers get stranded at the dance location due to a terrible thunderstorm. Everyone bunks in one room – the girls in one bed & the boys in another – and Bow arranges it so he’s on the end of the bed right next to Peggy, who’s on the end of the other. They have a whisper-conversation about dreams, and it’s pretty adorable.
  • Bit o’ wisdom:

“Marriage, honey, ain’t a party dress – you gotta wear it morning, noon, and night.” — Rachel Jackson (Beulah Bondi)

  • So R.Tay & Peggy get married, and it’s shiny & cute for about a day…and then he goes & gets himself killed in the West Indies.
  • 5 years pass, & LB Jackson gets elected president. Fun for Peggy, who is still his & Rachel’s honorary niece (or something of the sort).
  • They do a really good job at showing 5 years worth of aging on Peggy – she looks barely, barely different – but the changes to her hair & the way her makeup is done makes her look more mature – a perfect amount of change. Well done, team!
  • John Eaton (real-life Crawford husband Franchot Tone) is now in pursuit of Peggy, and is tapped to be LB Jackson’s Secretary of War.
  • In the scene on the balcony, where LB Jackson confronts protestors – LB looks surprisingly & strikingly like Jackson. Once again – awesome job, makeup & costume departments.
  • I’ve always loved Franchot Tone’s voice. It’s like…a hint deeper than you’d imagine, and very evenly toned. I could listen to him talk all day long.
  • Beulah Bondi as Rachel is pretty great – not over the top, as Bondi’s roles often are. (Don’t get mad at me for saying this – her roles aren’t overly boisterous or obnoxious – they’re just often so…overly saccharine (which is, I’m sure, partially rooted in the way those roles are written).) Anyway – she’s perfectly measured here, and it’s great.
  • (FYI – Rachel dies in between the election & the inauguration. Poor LB Andy.)
  • This movie is confused about what it wants to be – it’s half focused on the extremely personal romance, & half focused on the bold politics of Andrew Jackson, and doesn’t do a very thorough job at blending those two parts together. All of the characters are featured in both – but the political & romantic scenes are distinctly different in the tones of their scripts…and it just doesn’t quite work.
  • John Randolph has been in Russia for the last 5 years doing politically important things (I guess), but he’s back now, & he finally wants to marry “Margaret.”
  • Uncle Andy is not a fan of this though, because he & Randolph are political opponents. In a way too brisk scene, “Margaret” and Randolph decide to call off their lifetime of love for each other because their political convictions are too different. They go from being madly and exquisitely in love with each other to ‘Oh well, so much for that’ in an exchange of maybe 5 sentences. It’s really dumb. Whatever, though. (I like R. Tay & Tone better with Crawford in this movie, anyway.)
  • All the cabinet members’ wives hate “Pothouse Peg” the honorary First Lady, because she’s a widow, and widows are dangerous. Uncle Andy’s like, ‘I’ve got a killer idea – you marry my Secretary of War, and that’ll make all the fancy pantses love you, because then your Widow Threat Level will be reduced to a zero!’ Peggy’s like, ‘Yeah, okay – I could afford to wake up with that voice in my ear every morning.’

(I mean…this may not be exactly how their conversation goes, but…)

  • Meanwhile, John Randolph is shot because he doesn’t want to be involved in a plot to assassinate LB Jackson.

??? Well, okay. Sure.

  • Peggy of course makes it to Randolph’s bedside for some melodramatic, reconciliatory words. Blah, blah, blah.
  • Peggy’s marriage to Eaton didn’t make the society & Cabinet women approve of her. LB Jackson goes on a verbal rampage against all of these dissenting Cabinet wives, in the Oval Office – because LB needed another grand mini-monologue, because he’s LB, and that sort of thing is probably written into his contract.
  • All of the Cabinet members except Hot Voice Eaton are fired.

“Without justice, [the administration] can go to thunder! The whole dang country can boil up into a lather and bust wide open! But by the eternal, I’m going to have justice! Do you understand the word?! JUSTICE!” — LB, pounding his fist on the desk for further emphasis.

  • The Eatons sail for Spain, and, on the boat, Peggy turns over her shoulder, away from Franchot, & whisper-says, “Goodbye John Randolph.”

Then the movie ends.

  • Lame.

 

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