TCM Pick of the Month: April
When I saw that TCM was airing Lilly Turner (1933) this month, I knew that I’d have no problem deciding on my pre-Code pick for April. This little-seen feature stars Ruth Chatteron in what is, for my money, one of her juiciest roles. If you’re a Chatterton fan, it’s a must-see, and if you’re not, it might just make you one. Plus, it’s got George Brent and Frank McHugh. What more do you need?
Lilly Turner’s (Ruth Chatterton) dream marriage turns out to be a nightmare when she discovers her husband is a bigamist (not to mention a jerk). And that’s just the beginning of her troubles.
Lilly finds work wherever she can get it, including working with a phony doctor who offers free health lectures in an effort to sell his book that guarantees a life free from sickness. Lilly’s job with the outfit is to serve as living proof of the doctor’s claims. In my favorite scene, the doctor (Guy Kibbee) introduces Lilly to his audience as “an amazing example of clean living and right thinking.” Lilly emerges from beyond a curtain to share her testimony, starting out by telling them, “You may be surprised to hear that as a child I was deformed and practically a cripple.” She pauses to give her gum a thoughtful chomp before continuing. “The truth is that thousands of tired, sick, overweight and underweight women have already proven that radiant health and a perfect figure can be acquired by following the instructions in Dr. McGill’s health book.” After rushing through the rest of her speech, she flashes the audience a bright smile, bows, and strikes a pensive pose before the curtain closes. It’s one of the few light moments in the film.
“He would have to go nuts just when business got good.” Dr. Peter McGill (Guy Kibbee)
- Lilly Turner was directed by William Wellman, who directed Ruth Chatterton the year before in Frisco Jenny (1932).
- The screenplay was written by Gene Markey and Kathryn Scola. Markey was married four times – three of his wives were famous actresses: Joan Bennett, Hedy Lamarr, and Myrna Loy (What kind of ink was in this guy’s pen?) Scola’s credits include the screenplays for Midnight Mary (1933), Baby Face (1933), and Female (1933), which also starred Ruth Chatterton.
- Ruth Chatterton and co-star George Brent were married for two years, from 1932 to 1934. They also starred together in The Rich Are Always With Us (1932), The Crash (1932), and Female (1933).
- George Brent’s real name was George Brendan Nolan.
- Lilly Turner was one of 15 movies in which Frank McHugh was featured in 1933 – the busiest year of his career. It was a great showcase for his rarely seen dramatic acting chops.
- Lilly’s no-good husband was played by Gordon Westcott, who died two years after the film’s release, following an accident during a polo match.
Check out Lilly Turner, airing on TCM in the wee morning hours on April 23rd!