(director: Richard Boleslavsky; screenwriters: Zelda Sears/Harvey Thew/Eve Greene/story by Robert W. Chambers; cinematographer: George Folsey; editor: Frank Sullivan; music: William Axt; cast: Gary Cooper(Capt. Jack Gailliard), Marion Davie (Gail Loveless), Jean Parker (Eleanor Shackleford), Katherine Alexander (Pauline Cushman), Henry Wadsworth (Capt. John Pelham), Ted Healy (Capt. Hitchcock), Willard Robertson (Capt. Channing), Sidney Toler (Maj. Allen), Fuzzy Knight (Sweeney), Robert McWade (Colonel Sharpe), Russell Hardie (Lt. Gus Littledale), Wade Boteler (Gaston), Douglas Dumbrille (Gen. “Jeb” Stuart),; Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Lucien Hubbard; Warner Bros.; 1934)

“Lavishly entertaining but nonsensical American Civil War spy story.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The last film Marion Davies made for MGM is this lavishly entertaining but nonsensical American Civil War spy story. It’s remembered today for its epic battle scenes. Director Richard Boleslavsky (“Rasputin and the Empress”/”The Garden of Allah”/”Les Miserables”) keeps things trivial from the story by Robert W. Chambers and screenplay by Zelda Sears, Harvey Thew and Eve Greene. Boley was a late replacement for Raoul Walsh, whom Davies’ interfering boyfriend, the wealthy and powerful publisher William Randolph Hearst, didn’t care for and had the studio remove him. Not satisfied with the way the studio’s promotion of his lover went, Hearst orchestrated her move to Warners.

After the Bull Run battle, in the film’s first half, if you can believe, blonde, blue-eyed Marion Davies, playing a Northern actress recruited as a spy known as Operator 13 by the Union’s Major Allen (Sidney Toler), after recommended to him by her friend Jean Parker, disguises herself in blackface as a colored servant and operates on Southern turf behind the Mason-Dixon line with fellow actress spy Katherine Alexander trying to get intel on when and where the Reb general, Jeb Stuart, will attack. If you can handle that hokum you should have no trouble handling the film’s second half, where Ms. Davies begins a romance with Confederate officer Gary Cooper when her true identity is finally known by Cooper. The lovers part company while promising to meet again when the war is over.

The over-produced b/w film, filled with Southern atmosphere, is meant to be pleasing and is. It offers such things as theMills Brothers singing throughout and Ms. Davies singing “Once in a Lifetime, Love Comes Your Way.” The melodramatic romantic espionage story never seemed credible, but Davies and Cooper are fine together.

Operator 13 (1934)

REVIEWED ON 6/11/2015 GRADE: C+   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/