Wednesday, January 11, 2012

High Voltage (1929)

Carol Lombard's* first sound film has her starring up against William Boyd who was best known as Hopalong Cassidey but was in fact one of the least appreciated actors of his time.

The plot of the film has a bus load of people getting snow bound in the middle of nowhere. Fearing that there is nowhere to go to they spot a "house" in the distance and the small group makes their way there. The house turns out to be an abandoned church. As the group crowds around the stove- the only source of heat they discover that sleeping on one of the pews is a hobo. How the characters interact over the days that are trapped together is the film.

A surprisingly good early sound film that doesn't feel static or stage bound the way that many other films of the period do. Many sequences, such as the one where they go out on to a frozen lake and one of them falls in appears to have been filmed on location.

The plot of the film, cliched as it is in the set up, never feels that way once things start moving. To be certain there is only a certain number of ways that this can play out, but the film some how finds a different way to handle the material...though thinking about it perhaps what happens is more or less typical of Pre-Code Hollywood, however how the cast, especially Boyd and Lombard play it manage to make it into something special.

Don't kid yourself, if Boyd and Lombard didn't have chemistry and didn't manage to sell what was going on this never would have worked. Boyd is in full on leading man mode and he really sells the role of a hobo with a secret extremely well. Lombard, looking radiant and more sexy then I've ever seen her, is a sight to behold. Watching her be the wanted woman with a heart of gold is a revelation that her roles in all of the later comedies never prepared me for. The scene where she pulls Boyd aside to stop him putting the make on a younger girl has an intensity and rawness that should have at least gotten her an Oscar nomination.

The film itself probably isn't up to the standards of the performances of the two leads however it's a damn fine way to lose an hour. I should know I started the film and suddenly found myself being yelled at for being late for supper.

Definitely recommended.

*- No I didn't misspell her first name, that's how she was billed in this film.

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