Cast & Crew
At the turn of the nineteenth century, ambitious, social-climbing Becky Sharp leaves the snobbish English boarding school where she has been a charity case to live with her wealthy friend, Amelia Sedley. Although Amelia's buffoonish brother Joseph woos her, he never proposes because, as Becky is told, his status-conscious father would disapprove of the match. Her pride wounded, Becky leaves the Sedleys' and finds work as a governess at the estate of Sir Pitt Crawley. She soon wins the heart and hand of Crawley's playboy son Rawdon, an officer in the British army. Not satisfied with her new wealth and station, however, Becky flaunts her charms and beauty among admiring male aristocrats until she gains acceptance into their exclusive continental circle. Becky's indulgent world is shattered, however, when war breaks out during a lavish ball near Waterloo. Before Rawdon is sent off to fight Napoleon, a terrified Becky pledges her undivided love to him and later dedicates herself to helping him procure money to pay off a large gambling debt. While sacrificing her own honor, Becky agrees to allow the rich Lord Styne an evening alone with her in exchange for the needed money, but is caught with the lord by a suspicious Rawdon, who angrily rejects both her and the cash. Alone and penniless, Becky is reduced to singing in cabarets and living in a cheap boardinghouse until her overly pious brother-in-law, hearing of her plight, unwittingly gives her enough money to clear her debts and run off to India with the still devoted Joseph.
G. P. Huntley Jr.
James "hambone" Robinson
Francis Edwards Faragoh
W. Howard Greene
W. H. Ihnen
Robert Edmond Jones
Archie F. Marshek
Western Costume Company
John Hay Whitney
Earl A. Wolcott
On the day of her departure from the school, with nowhere to go, the willful girl connives a stay with rich beauty Amelia Sedley (Frances Dee) at her family home. Once there, Becky is determined to secure a more advantageous fate for herself, and tries everything in her power to get Amelia's fat, oafish, but rich brother Joseph (Nigel Bruce) to propose to her.
Smitten though he is, Joseph is well aware that marrying a woman of Becky's diminished social status is out of the question. Realizing that her chances for advancement are few, Becky travels to London to work as a governess and there sets her cap for her employer's handsome soldier son Rawdon (Alan Mowbray).
In the tradition of gold digger dramas of the '30s, Becky Sharp (1935) is an often scandalous portrait of a conniving social climber obsessed with rising to the top by whatever means necessary. Loosely modeled on William Makepeace Thackeray's novel Vanity Fair, Becky Sharp was a ground breaking film for its time. The film inaugurated full three-color Technicolor which recreated the complete spectrum of colors, as opposed to the limited palette of "two-strip" Technicolor which preceded it. Becky Sharp was therefore greeted with amazement as a cinematic revolution upon its release.
Russian born-director Rouben Mamoulian took over from Becky Sharp's original director Lowell Sherman when he died suddenly 25 days into production. Mamoulian scrapped all of Sherman's footage and started from scratch.
A consummate film craftsman with a marvelous understanding of the medium, Mamoulian understood immediately the significance of color in his film. And critic Danny Peary noted the director's scrupulous attention to color photography in Becky Sharp, writing "he decided to use color thematically to express character mood, and added more and more color as the film progresses and the plot thickens. Every shot looks color-coordinated."
Mamoulian acknowledged the centrality of color keyed to action as well, as in the film's dramatic high point during a ballroom scene interrupted by the battle of Waterloo. Mamoulian wrote in a 1935 article in Picturegoer magazine, of the dramatic highlight of the drama, "Colour, as you know, is symbolic. It is not an accident that traffic stop lights are red, go lights green. Red means danger, green safety and hope. So in the first few shots of this sequence, the people who run by the camera are dressed in cool colours, starting with black and white and brown. Then we cut to a group in blues and greens, then yellow and orange; and finally, first to dull, then to flaming reds." When it was officially released, Becky Sharp's innovative use of color won the film the color prize at the third Venice Film Festival.
Mamoulian had a knack for creating entertaining films with a sophisticated edge, as in his debut film Applause (1929), a landmark early talkie and backstage musical that casts a harsh light on the supposed glamour of show-biz. Applause was as innovative for its use of sound technology, including Mamoulian's use of mobile and multiple cameras, as the director's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) was groundbreaking for its subjective camera and special camera filters. The unique ways in which film could tell a story were of major concern to Mamoulian, who said, "I do believe the cinema is in imagery, not in words."
"All I can tell you is he's one of the warmest, most intelligent and enchanting people" said Miriam Hopkins of Mamoulian, whom the actress also worked with on Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. John Kobal in People Will Talk has described Hopkins as "the blond Southern belle who could chase molasses up a tree. She had an antebellum voice and a cash-and-carry mind." That peculiar and delicious mix of coquettishness and deviousness was advantageously displayed in sophisticated fare like Trouble in Paradise (1932), The Story of Temple Drake (1933) and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And it was that conniving sauciness which also made Hopkins feel perfectly suited for Becky Sharp's tale of a uniquely cunning gold digger.
Director: Rouben Mamoulian
Producer: Kenneth Macgowan
Screenplay: Francis Edward Faragoh based on the play by Langdon Mitchell adapted from the novel Vanity Fair by W.M. Thackeray.
Cinematography: Ray Rennahan
Production Design: Robert Edmond Jones
Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Miriam Hopkins (Becky Sharp), Frances Dee (Amelia Sedley), Cedric Hardwicke (Marquis of Steyne), Billie Burke (Lady Bareacres), Alison Skipworth (Miss Crawley), Nigel Bruce (Joseph Sedley), Alan Mowbray (Rawdon Crawley), Colin Tapley (William Dobbin), G.P. Huntley, Jr. (George Osborne), William Stack (Pitt Crawley).
by Felicia Feaster
Frances Dee (1907-2004)
She was born Jane Dee, on November 26, 1907 in Los Angeles, California. She was the daughter of an Army officer who grew up in Chicago after her father was transferred there when she was still a toddler. After he was re-stationed to Los Angeles in the late '20s, Jane accompanied him back.
Although she didn't harbor any serious intentions of becoming a star, Dee, almost out of curiosity, found work in Hollywood as an extra. With bit parts in small features in the films Words and Music (1929), True to the Navy, and Monte Carlo (both 1930), it didn't take long for studio executives to take notice of the sleek, stylish brunette. They changed her first name to Francis, and gave her a prominent role opposite Maurice Chevalier in one of the first all-talking musicals, The Playboy of Paris (1930).
She proved she could handle drama in her next big hit, An American Tragedy (1931) as Sondra Finchley, the role played by Elizabeth Taylor in the George Stevens' remake A Place in the Sun (1951). She met her husband Joel McCrea while filming The Silver Cord (1933), and after a romantic courtship, were married that same year in Rye, New York. It was well-known within film industry circles that their 57-year marriage (ending in 1990 when McCrea passed away) was one of the most successful among Hollywood stars.
From there, Dee played important leads in several fine motion pictures thoughout the decade: Little Women (1933), starring Katharine Hepburn; Blood Money (also 1933), where she was cast thrillingly against type as a sex-hungry socialite whose taste for masochistic boyfriends leads to harrowing results; Of Human Bondage (1934), in which she played Leslie Howard's devoted girlfriend; The Gay Deception (1935), a charming romantic comedy co-starring Frances Lederer; Wells Fargo (1937) a broad sweeping Western where she again teamed up with her husband McCrea; and the classic period epic If I Were King (1938) making a marvelous match for Ronald Colman.
Dee's film career slowed considerably in the '40s, as she honorably spent more time raising her family. Still, she was featured in two fine films: the profound, moving anti-Nazi drama So Ends Our Night (1941) with Fredric March; and Val Lewton's terrific cult hit I Walked with a Zombie (1943), portraying the inquisitive nurse trying to unravel the mystery of voodoo occurrences on a West Indian plantation. Dee officially retired after starring in the family film Gypsy Colt (1954) to commit herself full-time to her children and her husband.
For those so inclined, you might want to check out Complicated Women (2003), a tight documentary regarding the racy Pre-Code films that represented a realistic depiction of the Depression-era morality before the Hays code took over Hollywood in 1934. Frances Dee, although well in her nineties, offers some lucid insight into her performance in Blood Money, and clearly demonstrates an actor's process of thought and understanding in role development.
She is survived by three sons including the actor Jody McCrea, who found fame as "Bonehead" in the AIP Beach Party films of the '60s, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Frances Dee (1907-2004)
After only a few weeks filming, director Lowell Sherman developed pneumonia and died. His replacement, Rouben Mamoulian, scrapped his footage and began again from scratch.
The first feature-length three-color film.
After the tremendous success of the short _La Cucuracha (1934)_ , John Hay Whitney and his cousin Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney formed Pioneer Pictures to produce color films, of which this was the first.
Being the first Technicolor film, the color at the time did not look too realistic; one critic commented that the cast looked like "boiled salmon dipped in mayonnaise".
The restored version is being preserved by the UCLA Film Archives.
Although the three-strip Technicolor technique had been used previously in short and animated films and in sequences in feature films, Becky Sharp was the first complete feature-length film to be shot with the process. In an essay, which was published in the December 1938 Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, H. T. Kalmus, a Technicolor pioneer, describes the history of the three-strip process: "...Technicolor had persisted in its research and development work so that by May, 1932, it had completed the building of its first three-component camera and had one unit of its plant equipped to handle a moderate amount of three-color printing. The difference between this three-component process and the previous two-component process was truly extraordinary. Not only was the accuracy of tone and color reproduction greatly improved, but definition was markedly better." (For the three-strip Technicolor process, a yellow strip was added to the cyan and magenta strips of the two-color or Cinecolor process.)
Encouraged by the tremendous success of La Cucuracha, an award-winning three-strip Technicolor short distributed by RKO, John Hay "Jock" Whitney and his cousin, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, formed Pioneer Pictures to produce color films. Kalmus describes the relationship between Technicolor and Pioneer Pictures: "Early in 1933 Mr. Merian C. Cooper [RKO production executive and friend of Whitney] and Mr. John Hay Whitney began to show a practical interest in Technicolor. After thorough investigation of the Technicolor situation by Mr. Whitney and his associates, and as a result of many conferences, a contract was signed between Technicolor and Pioneer Pictures, Inc., on May 18, 1933, which provided for the production of eight pictures, superfeature in character and especially featuring color."
An August 1934 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Pioneer's first Technicolor production was to be Becky Sharp, not The Three Musketeers, as originally planned. (The Three Musketeers was filmed in black and white by RKO later in 1935.) The same article mentions that Dwight Taylor was assigned to write the screenplay. Taylor is listed in Hollywood Reporter production charts as a co-screenwriter with credited writer Faragoh. The exact nature of Taylor's contribution to the final film is not known, however. August and September 1934 Daily Variety news items stated that because Miriam Hopkins and RKO could not agree on a salary, she was dropped from the project, and both Myrna Loy and Claudette Colbert were put into consideration for the lead. Displeased with the script, Colbert turned down RKO's offer. In mid-September 1934, Hopkins and RKO came to terms, and Hopkins was re-instated in the production. Hopkins was later nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award.
Rehearsals and testing of the color process were completed by mid-December 1934, according to Film Daily. Lowell Sherman began as director of the production but died of double pneumonia on December 28, 1934. Hollywood Reporter notes that Sherman refused to abandon the picture even after his illness had become serious. After Sherman's demise, Rouben Mamoulian reshot the entire story from scratch, according to Hollywood Reporter. Pauline Garon, Sherman's wife at the time of production, was given the role of Fifine following his death.
According to Variety, Whitney spent $950,000 to make Becky Sharp. According to Hollywood Reporter, Doris Lloyd replaced Elsie Ferguson in the cast after Ferguson became ill. Hollywood Reporter news items add Billie Bellport, Montague Shaw, Gaston Glass, Creighton Hale (Lon Chaney, Jr.), Keith Kenneth and Joan Arnold to the cast, while Hollywood Reporter production charts add Mrs. Leslie Carter to the cast. The participation of these actors in the final film has not been confirmed. Joan Arnold is described in Hollywood Reporter as a former Camel cigarette model. Some pre-production news items referred to the film as Vanity Fair. Actor George Hassell's surname is spelled "Hassele" in the onscreen credits.
Modern sources note that while experts predicted that Becky Sharp would launch a boom in color films, its poorly written script kept box office receipts down, and the picture did not significantly promote Technicolor. Modern sources also state that after preview audiences complained that the film's audio was unintelligible, RKO re-recorded the entire soundtrack by re-recording their Photophone track on Western Electric's rival process. The re-recorded Western Electric track was then transferred back to RKO's Photophone system for the release prints. In 1984, Becky Sharp was restored to its almost original three-color look by the UCLA Film Archives. According to modern sources, in 1943, Pioneer Pictures sold all rights to the film to Film Classics, Inc., which in turn re-issued it in a cheaper two-color process. Although Film Classics' 16mm prints of the film were full-length, their 35mm prints were cut to 66 minutes. After Film Classics went out of business, the film rights changed hands several times, and after a time, only 66-minute, black-and-white 16mm prints were in circulation. The restored version includes 64 minutes of three-color footage, and 24 minutes of two-color footage of varying quality. For information on other versions of Thackeray's story, see listing below for the 1932 film Vanity Fair.
Released in United States 1935
Released in United States 1984
Shown at 1984 New York Film Festival (Retrospective).
Released in United States 1984 (Shown at 1984 New York Film Festival (Retrospective).)
Released in United States 1935