“When a man pities his rival, he’s preparing to pity himself.”
In pre-Revolutionary Russia, beautiful young Olga (Linda Darnell) is married off to an older peasant (Hugo Haas), but secretly loves an aristocratic judge (George Sanders); meanwhile, a foppish nobleman (Edward Everett Horton) lavishes Olga with gifts in hopes of buying her favors, and the upstanding daughter (Anna Lee) of a publisher mourns the loss of her fiancee (Sanders).
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Anna Lee Films
- Cross-Class Romance
- Douglas Sirk Films
- Flashback Films
- George Sanders Films
- Linda Darnell Films
- Love Triangle
- Social Climbers
Based on Anton Chekhov’s 1884 novella The Shooting Party, this historical melodrama is primarily remembered — along with Hitler’s Madman (1943) — as one of Douglas Sirk’s first American studio pictures after his emigration from Germany. Film fanatics will likely be surprised to see iconic fey character actor Edward Everett Horton given a relatively substantial role here, playing a simpering, womanizing (!) aristocrat with comedic flair; unfortunately, as much as I’d love to give him kudos, his performance is ultimately more amusing than convincing.
Sanders is typecast in a somewhat serious role as a judge who falls head-over-heels for Darnell’s Olga; their romance isn’t particularly convincing either — though we’re meant to simply accept that Olga is such an intoxicatingly smoldering beauty she can’t help igniting the passions of all men around her.
Other than the rather pedestrian “suspense” surrounding Darnell’s social-climbing romantic aspirations (and an unexpected plot twist in the final half-hour), the film’s narrative tensions derive primarily from sticky class relations; indeed, the original story’s timeline was moved up a few decades to heighten the fact that Horton and Sanders’ sense of entitlement would not last long in the face of an increasingly disenchanted proletariat. Watch for a memorable supporting performance by Laurie Lane (Lori Lahner) as a maid with a crush on Sanders.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Linda Darnell as Olga
- Laurie Lane as Clara
- Atmospheric cinematography and direction
No; this one is only must-see for Sirk completists.