review for The Gorgeous Hussy on AllMovie

The Gorgeous Hussy (1936)
by Craig Butler review

There's an interesting movie to be made from the life and times of Peggy O'Neal Timberlake Eaton -- but it's not to be found in The Gorgeous Hussy, a bowdlerized and fuzzy biopic of this controversial figure. Historically, the film is a lot of mush (which it admits with a strange note to that effect upfront), fictionalizing a romance between the title character and John Randolph that ends in death by duel (whereas the real Randolph died by natural causes and was in no way romantically linked with Peggy). Unfortunately, it's also a lot of mush dramatically. The Joan Crawford-Melvyn Douglas "unrealized romance" plot works fairly well, and the Robert Taylor sequence is fairly satisfactory; but once the story begins to revolve around how alienated Crawford is by Washington, D.C., society, it becomes silly -- mainly because the cause of that alienation isn't really delved into and explored in an interesting manner. The politics are ridiculously telescoped and simplified, and Crawford's character isn't made three-dimensional enough. For her part, Crawford tries hard, but she's miscast in the kind of role that Irene Dunne would have sailed through. Louis Calhern is annoying, playing his role as if he were the villain in an old-time melodrama, and James Stewart is surprisingly bland, but the rest of the cast is good. Lionel Barrymore has a grand old time, and Douglas' quiet understatement is very effective; but the best performance comes from Beulah Bondi, whose Rachel is both tender and touching, and touchingly vulnerable.