“She’s hard, she’s selfish — she’ll take advantage of you!”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary points out that while “in the book she is ruthless”, the “script eliminates her many unforgivable acts”, leaving us to “see only her virtues”. He notes that she possesses “charm, wit, intelligence, resilience, [and] vitality” — and that while she “is selfish”, she “wants the best for her social husband… and best friend [Dee] as well as for herself”, and is “willing to sacrifice her own happiness so that they will be happy”.
Peary ultimately argues that while this film “may not be Thackeray”, it’s nonetheless “an enjoyable, if flimsy, period piece, with a likable heroine and a dynamic performance from Hopkins” (who he nominates as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in his Alternate Oscars). Unfortunately, I can’t quite agree with Peary that Becky comes across as a “likable heroine”, and I’m not overly impressed with Hopkins’ performance, in which she seems to indulge her worst tendencies towards shrillness and hyperactivity.
With that said, her Becky remains a clever, savvy heroine to be sure, and one can’t help sympathizing with her position in a society which so roundly rejects her from the get-go; meanwhile, her marriage to Mowbray demonstrates that she is capable of true love, even if her designs on men are always and forever calculated to help her maneuver her way out of poverty.
As Peary notes, however, the film is really “best known for being the first to use three-color Technicolor process”, and represents a “remarkable job [done] with [early] color experimentation”. He points out that director Rouben Mamoulian (with assistance from DP Ray Rennahan) “decided to use color thematically to express character mood, and added more and more color as the film progresses and the plot thickens”, with “every shot look[ing] color-coordinated”. He notes that his “favorite shot comes [early] in the film”, as “Mowbray and another red-jacketed soldier stand in the foreground in front of a hanging white sheet, through which we can see the black silhouettes of Hopkins and Dee — so within the frame Mamoulian contrasts color with black and white”.
He’s right to note that this is “very clever”, as is the film’s most famous sequence taking place “on the eve of Waterloo”, as the guests at a gala ball “leave according to their color group so only the ones in red remained in the ballroom”.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: