Mandalay (1934)

Film Review

MANDALAY

Release Date: 10 February, 1934

Studio: Warner Bros.

Director: Michael Curtiz

Starring: Kay Francis, Ricardo Cortez, Lyle Talbot

Synopsis

In Rangoon, Burma, Cortez deserts Francis, his lover. Without money or friends, she is forced to accept employment as a hostess in a decadent nightclub where she becomes the notorious "Spot White". Eventually, the authorities close the nightclub and deport Francis. Hoping remake her life, Francis changes her name and takes a river steamer to Mandalay.

Onboard, she meets disgraced surgeon Talbot. An alcoholic, Talbot is seeking to regenerate himself and make amends for killing a patient while operating drunk. Cortez is also on board. Fleeing the police, he has stowed away. Cortez finds Francis and threatens to name her as an accomplice unless she helps him escape and goes with him. In a panic, she decides to free herself of Cortez and poisons him. Sick and staggering, he falls overboard. Although Francis is not accused of involvement in Cortez's death, she is conscience-stricken. Talbot, attempting to make amends for his faults, is going into the interior to care for the native population. He tells Francis that he will probably die there. To atone for her crime, she volunteers to go with him.

Discussion

The film appeals to the daydreams of homebound women moviegoers of the 1930s. In an exotic locale, a beautiful woman suffers desertion and the necessity of living as an exotically garbed, highly desirable "hostess". Gaining control, she finds release from this debasement, and revenges herself on her deserter. Finally she pays for her crimes and sooths her conscience by service to others. The fantasy concludes in nobility and self-sacrifice. Francis is elegant, smooth, and desirable. Although naive at first, her character quickly becomes clever, calculating and self-reliant. Her relationships with men are difficult, but she takes control and makes her own decisions. Ricardo Cortez is excellent as a sleazy villain. The film roles of the young Talbot varied between weaklings and likeable heroes. Here he is somewhat of both.