Ladies of Leisure (Frank Capra / U.S., 1930):

The lady of the lake, the plebeian wisecracker as muse, "always posing." ("How do you spend your nights?" "Re-posing.") Champagne bottles rain down from the penthouse soiree, the camera tracks past the streamers and confetti to find the posh reprobate (Lowell Sherman) busy with a paint brush on a reveler’s bare back. His friend (Ralph Graves) is a moneyed scion and a stymied artist; in dire need of inspiration to complete a canvas titled "Hope," he finds it in the put-upon hooker (Barbara Stanwyck) introduced rowing away from a rowdy yacht. "Pretty good company" for rental, she assures him, plus the right moonstruck look for his painting, except for her demimonde makeup. (Lipstick is wiped off and eyelashes are peeled away for a candid close-up, a proper introduction to Stanwyck’s inner rawness.) From atelier to rooftop, where the boy’s dreamy description of the stars is met with the girl’s sensible worldliness: "Aw, they’re too far way," a line that resurfaces in Fellini’s Amarcord. (The vertiginous heights are later contrasted with dark, bottomless waters during the plunge off the ocean liner.) Frank Capra’s Blue Angel, his Waterloo Bridge, a suspended moment of awkward intimacy. The model is seen on a makeshift bed through a rain-speckled window, the painter in a bathrobe paces back and forth in his bedroom, and the montage becomes a wordless swing of anticipation and relief, anxiety and desire. The heroine’s late-night tête-à-tête with her lively roommate (Marie Prevost), her joy remembering a transformative night at the opera, her twitch of hurt when Graves knocks her flowers off the breakfast table -- a continuous play of emotional urges, pinpointed by an unguarded actress and an entranced director. The Miracle Woman is the natural, ardent follow-up. With Nance O’Neil, George Fawcett, and Juliette Compton. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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