Becky Sharp (1935)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Melodrama, Period Film  |   Run Time - 83 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom, United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Craig Butler

Lavishly praised upon its initial release, time has somewhat dimmed the luster of Becky Sharp, which is more important for its historical significance (as the first feature film shot in three-strip Technicolor) than for its place in the development of cinematic drama. This is not to say that Sharp is a bad film, merely that its virtues are not as impressive as they were in 1935. Chief among those virtues is its stunning color photography (which is noticeably absent from many prints, which reduce the vibrant, vivid palette of the original to dull, muddy hues). The riot of color is glorious and used to very good effect by director Rouben Mamoulian, who starts the film out with a very restrained use of color, then gradually introduces different tints and shades until the screen explodes with color. Mamoulian does a marvelous job with the visual aspect of the piece and he's in fine command of the performances; he is less successful, however, at covering the flaws in the screenplay, which reduce the Thackeray novel to a Cliff's Notes version that rushes over the nuances and complexities of the characters and their situations. In the title role, Miriam Hopkins delivers a bravura performance; it anchors the film, but it also is a bit of an acquired taste. Her Becky lacks subtlety, and this will put some off; others, however, will be mesmerized by the power and conviction she brings to the role and the manner in which she dominates the entire picture. However, even those who may have qualms about her performance should be suitably impressed by the depth of sorrow, desperation, and heartbreak she exhibits after losing the one real love of her life. Sharp has its imperfections, but it's still an interesting and visually lovely film.