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Blu-Ray : Recommended
Ranking:
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Release Date: January 30th, 2024 Movie Release Year: 1932

Faithless - Warner Archive Collection

Overview -

An entertaining pre-Code classic, Faithless may be predictable and a bit disjointed, but it coasts along on the strength of its magnetic co-stars. Tallulah Bankhead and Robert Montgomery shine in this Depression-era tale of two lovers from different worlds who refuse to meet each other halfway. Warner Archive's dazzling transfer struck from a new 4K scan of preservation elements is a treat for the eyes, while remastered audio and a trio of vintage shorts make this Blu-ray presentation of an early-1930s rarity well worth a look. Recommended.

OVERALL:
Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
NEW 4K RESTORATION FROM PRESERVATION ELEMENTS (2023)
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p/AVC MPEG-4
Length:
77
Aspect Ratio(s):
1.37:1
Audio Formats:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono
Subtitles/Captions:
English SDH
Release Date:
January 30th, 2024

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

Tallulah Bankhead was one of the foremost Broadway actresses of her era, but like oil and water, she and Hollywood did not mix. Maybe her larger-than-life persona didn't translate well to the intimacy of the screen, maybe her cinematic vehicles were subpar, or maybe moviemaking just wasn't her bag. Whatever the case, Bankhead starred in six films in the early 1930s - none of which succeeded at the box office - before retreating to the sanctity of the stage. The last of those films was Faithless, a run-of-the-mill but very entertaining romantic melodrama that paired her with MGM's most debonair leading man, Robert Montgomery. Bankhead would make just five more big-screen appearances over the next 33 years (the most notable of which would be Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat in 1944), so despite the mediocrity of most of her movies, anyone who appreciates Golden Age divas should jump at the chance to see her films.

Clocking in at a brisk 77 minutes, Faithless flirts with romcom conventions during its first third before shifting gears and wallowing in pre-Code pathos thereafter. Director Harry Beaumont, who helmed such vivacious Jazz Age silents as Joan Crawford's Our Dancing Daughters, juggles the conflicting tones with ease and crafts a film that's so slick and elegant we almost forget the familiarity of the plot. The script by Carey Wilson, who would earn an Oscar nomination a few years later for his adaptation of Mutiny on the Bounty, borrows from any number of fallen-woman movies of the period, but his writing is good enough to keep us engaged. Even when the screenplay falters, which it does on more than one occasion, the solid performances keep the picture afloat.

Frivolous Park Avenue heiress Carol Morgan (Bankhead) spends money with reckless abandon, much to the horror of her financial advisors, who call her "a lovely girl, but spoiled, superficial." Her jovial boyfriend Bill Wade (Montgomery) toils at an advertising agency and wants to marry Carol, but his masculine pride demands they both live on his "meager" $20,000-a-year salary. The pampered Carol scoffs at such a preposterous idea (even though in 1932 such a salary was more than 10 times the national average!)...until, of course, her advisors inform her she's blown through her substantial fortune and is flat broke.

As (bad) luck would have it, Bill loses his job at the same time and suggests he and Carol get married anyway and live on love. The prospect of poverty and going to work is anathema to Carol, who breaks up with Bill and becomes a "social panhandler," mooching off her high society friends in a desperate attempt to maintain her lavish lifestyle. When her pals get wise to her wiles, Carol hits the skids and endures one degradation after another until she reaches rock bottom. That's when Bill pops back into the picture, but their reunion plunges Carol deeper into a moral morass.

Like many Depression Era films, Faithless skewers the idle rich, depicting them as selfish, arrogant, ignorant, and often despicable. Carol is a bit nicer than most, but she's a product of privilege and believes she's entitled to wealth and a life of leisure. Adjusting to the harsh realities of a cruel world isn't easy for her, and though we feel sorry for the indignities she must weather, she brings most of her misfortunes on herself.

Carol is a juicy part and Bankhead plays it to the hilt. At the time, Tallulah was a far bigger star than Bette Davis, but it's impossible not to draw parallels between the two legendary actresses. If Davis borrowed her persona from anyone, it was most assuredly Bankhead, who possesses the same guttural vocal tones, magnetic eyes, and take-no-prisoners attitude Davis would begin exhibiting in just a few years. (Interestingly, two of Davis' biggest screen successes, Dark Victory and The Little Foxes, were both adaptations of Broadway plays starring Bankhead.) Comparisons to Davis aside, Bankhead remains a fascinating screen presence and she rivets attention throughout Faithless. Whether she's lounging on a chaise basking in the opulence of her massive apartment, verbally sparring with Montgomery, fending off the advances of a lecherous tycoon (creepily played by Hugh Herbert), or looking impeccably coiffed, glamorously made up, and smartly dressed even when she's waiting on a bread line(!), Bankhead bedazzles and makes us rue her departure from Hollywood immediately following this film.

Montgomery partnered with almost all of MGM's A-list leading ladies during the early 1930s, including Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, and Joan Crawford, and he makes an equally fine foil for Bankhead. Though he never eclipses his lofty co-stars, Montgomery doesn't reside in their shadows either. In his own subtle way, he goes toe-to-toe with Bankhead and his breezy portrayal both buoys Faithless and keeps it grounded.

The rest of the cast isn't particularly notable, but Disney fans will surely recognize the inimitable voice - if not the distinctive appearance - of a young Sterling Holloway, who would gain immortality decades later as the voice of Winnie the Pooh. In just his sixth feature film, the 27-year-old Holloway plays quite possibly the most laconic, lackadaisical paparazzi photographer in Hollywood history and the only one who sounds like...well...Winnie the Pooh. When Montgomery brushes him off, I almost expected Holloway to say "Oh, bother."

Faithless may not stand as one of the preeminent pre-Code movies, but it's a lot of fun. With its slick production values, far-fetched plot, and potent star power, Beaumont's film will capture the fancy of most Golden Age aficionados. It also captures the elusive Bankhead's unique allure and gives us a taste of the talent that captivated lucky Broadway audiences for the next few decades.

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Faithless arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu without music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.

Video Review

Ranking:

If only all facelifts could look this good! Faithless is 92 years old, but you'd never know it from looking at Warner Archive's spectacular 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer struck from a brand new 4K scan of preservation elements. The gorgeous film-like presentation features excellent contrast, crystal clarity, and noticeable yet muted grain that preserves the authenticity of Oliver T. Marsh's lush cinematography. Inky blacks, solid whites, and a pleasing grayscale produce a vibrant image that beautifully showcases both opulent and dingy interiors. Good shadow delineation enhances nocturnal scenes, fine details are crisp, and some breathtaking close-ups highlight Bankhead's glossy lips and thick mascara. Amazingly, no nicks, marks, or scratches mar the near-immaculate source and though some shots exhibit softness or appear a tad too bright, that's to be expected when dealing with a film of this vintage. I don't own the previous DVD, but there's no way it can outclass this exceptional high-def rendering.

Audio Review

Ranking:

The remastered DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track can't completely hide the audio's antiquated nature, but it supplies clear, well-modulated sound nonetheless. Some mild hiss can be heard during quiet moments, but no pops or crackle crop up. Like many soundtracks of the era, the audio is slightly harsh and hollow, which make some bits of dialogue difficult to comprehend, but the overall presentation is remarkably pleasing. The ambient music exudes a fullness of tone and subtle atmospherics like urban street noise nicely shade the action.

Special Features

Ranking:

A collection of vintage shorts, all of which are presented in high definition, comprises the disc extras.

  • Vintage Short: Rambling 'Round Radio Row #9 (HD, 11 minutes) - This 1934 Vitaphone short is most notable for the participation of George Jessel and Shemp Howard in a comedy sketch. A few brief musical numbers fill out the rest of the running time.

  • Vintage Short: The Trans-Atlantic Mystery (HD, 22 minutes) - Donald Meek, a young John Hamilton (who years later played Perry White in the original Superman TV series), and Ray Collins star in this 1933 two-reeler about the search for some stolen jewels - and later a murderer - aboard a trans-Atlantic cruise ship.

  • Vintage Short: The Symphonic Murder Mystery (HD, 21 minutes) - Meek and Hamilton also star in this earlier mystery, released in 1931. Classic movie fans will also spot Douglas Dumbrille and the always recognizable Almira Sessions in her film debut in this hokey but entertaining whodunit about the killing of a musician at a concert.

Final Thoughts

The pre-Code faithful will get a big kick out of Faithless and that's largely due to Bankhead's larger-than-life performance. She and Montgomery make a winning pair in a rather silly melodrama that subsists on their potent star quality. Warner Archive's spectacular transfer struck from a 4K scan of preservation elements, remastered audio, and a few vintage rarities make this an irresistible treat for classics fans. Recommended.

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