Cedric Hardwicke and Miriam Hopkins in Becky Sharp (1935)


(director: Rouben Mamoulian; screenwriters: Francis Edward Faragoh/based on William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair and the play by Langdon Mitchell; cinematographer: Ray Rennahan; editor: Archie Marshek; music: Roy Webb; cast: Miriam Hopkins (Becky Sharp), Cedric Hardwicke (Marquis of Steyne), Nigel Bruce (Joseph Sedley), Frances Dee (Amelia Sedley), Alan Mowbray (Rawdon Crawley), G.P. Huntley Jr (George Osborne), Billie Burke (Lady Bareacres) ; Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Kenneth Macgowan; RKO; 1935)

“Failed to sizzle.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Noted as the first talkie to be in three-strip Technicolor. Under the unremarkable but showy direction of the Russian born-filmmaker Rouben Mamoulian(“Blood and Sand”/”Silk Stockings”/”Cleopatra”), who took over directing when Lowell Sherman died after about a month’s time of shooting. The adaptation of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, set at the turn of the nineteenth century in England, failed to sizzle as far as drama. But the meaningless visuals are stunning, the costumes in the ball room scenes near Waterloo are impeccable, and Mamoulian’s usual excellent craftsmanship was also apparent.

The screenplay by Francis Edward Faragoh centers on the rise and fall of the ambitious, unscrupulous, social climber title character, who wangles her way from a charity case student at a posh boarding school into Regency society. Miriam Hopkins handsomely plays the lead, even if her role is distorted from how she was portrayed in the novel. The supporting cast mostly appear as if wooden caricatures, listlessly mouthing theatrical dialogue.

Amelia Sedley plays Becky’s wealthy friend. Nigel Bruce plays the buffoon brother of Amelia, who woos Becky but never proposes out of respect for his snobby father. Alan Mowbray plays the wealthy playboy she marries, who leaves her with gambling debts when he goes off to fight Napoleon. When Becky tries to square his debts by a rendezvous with a rich lord, played by Cedric Hardwicke, hubby finds out and resents that she dishonored her marital vows and dumps her. Left destitute, our heroine ends up living as a low-life by surviving alone as a cabaret singer until rescued by the still smitten Nigel Bruce.