Divine Lady, The (1929): Frank Lloyd’s Oscar Winner, Silent/Sound Tale of

Made in the crucial, transitional year of 1929, The Divine Lady is Vitaphone sound film with synchronized musical score and sound effects, but without any spoken dialogue.

The film is directed by Frank Lloyd, who received an Oscar Award in the second year of the kudos.

It is adapted by Harry Carr, Forrest Halsey, Agnes Christine Johnston, and Edwin Justus Mayer from the novel “The Divine Lady: a Romance of Nelson and Emma Hamilton,” by E. Barrington.

The melodramatic tale revolves around the famous and notorious love affair between Horatio Nelson and Emma Hamilton, played by Corinne Griffith, who was Oscar nominated.

Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh would remake a better, more famous version of this story in 1940, titled That Hamilton Woman.

Title cards informs viewers of the specific era, in which the tale is set, such as 1797-1799 France, and it achieves a nice balance between the epic exteriors of sea battles and the more initimate story.

Set in the late eighteenth century, Lady Hamilton is not accepted by the British aristocracy, due to her social class.  Born Emma Hart, she is the daughter of a cook.   Though perceived as simple vulgar, men are impressed by her beauty.

To protect his inheritance, Honorable Charles Greville, Emma’s then lover and her mother’s employer, sent Emma to Naples under false pretenses to live with his uncle, Sir William Hamilton, where she would study to become a lady.

Emma ends up becoming Hamilton’s wife in a marriage of convenience. But it is Emma’s relationship with Horatio Nelson of the British navy that is a problem.

Lady Hamilton helps Nelson’s armada defeat Napoleon’s fleet in naval battles, but her relationship with Nelson is threatened both are married to other people.

By standards of the time, The Divine Lady is a lavish feature, boasting impressive production values in every department.

The supporting cast includes H.B. Warner, Marie Dressler, and Dorothy Cumming, who will make popular sound films in the 1930s.

The film features a theme song, “Lady Divine,” with lyrics by Richard Kountz and music by Nathaniel (Nat) Shilkret.  The song became a popular hit and was later rerecorded by Nat Shilkret, Frank Munn, Ben Selvin, Smith Ballew, Adrian Schubert.

Oscar Context

Oscar Nominations: 3

Director: Frank Lloyd

Actress: Corinne Griffith

Cinematography: John Seitz

Oscar Awards:

Frank Lloyd won the Best Director Oscar for three films.  He is one of the few Oscar director to win this kudo for a film that was not even nominated.

Lloyd is better known for making The Mutiny on the Bounty, with an all-star cast, headed by Gable and Charles Laughton, which won the 1935 Best Picture Oscar.

Famous for her beauty, Griffith did not make a successful transition to the sound era and thereupon her career faded.

One of the least known nominees in Oscar’s history, Griffith retired from the screen in 1932.

The Best Actress Oscar that year, a sentimental vote, went to vet silent star Mary Pickford, who was one of the founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (in 1927), for a mediocre film, Coquette.

 

Credits

Released by Warner

Release date: March 31, 1929

Running time: 99 Minutes

 

Cast

Corrine Griffith as Emma Hart

Victor Varconi as Horatio Nelson

H. B. Warner as Sir William Hamilton

Ian Keith as Honorable Charles Greville

Marie Dressler as Mrs. Hart

Montagu Love as Captain Hardy

William Conklin as Romney

Dorothy Cumming as Queen Maria Carolina

Michael Vavitch as King Ferdinand

Evelyn Hall as Duchess of Devonshire

Helen Jerome Eddy as Lady Nelson

Restoration

This film was preserved by the UCLA Film and TV Archive and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in cooperation with the Czechoslovak Film Archive.

End note:

I am grateful to TCM for showing the film on February 13, 2019 in its “31 Days of Oscar.”

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