Tallulah Bankhead is legendary in the theater world, but not so much in the film world. She only made 12 films, and I’d say all but one belong firmly in the “Obscure Classics” category. And many of them aren’t even available for viewing. But I love Tallulah Bankhead. I have only seen a few of her movies, but she makes such a lasting impression. Today I’ll talk about my two favorite films starring Tallulah.
Faithless (Harry Beaumont, 1932)
With her outspoken ways, Bankhead was a perfect fit for pre-code Hollywood, and her best work during that era is the Depression era romance Faithless. I think it’s truly the role Bankhead was born to play in films.
She stars opposite Robert Montgomery as a very wealthy heiress who refuses to live on her fiancee’s income, which breaks up the engagement. Of course, she’s so arrogant and having such a good time that she doesn’t pay any attention to the fact that the Depression is quickly cleaning her out, and she ends up broke.
She and Montgomery find each other again, both poor as can be, and reignite their love. The film becomes truly pre-code in the end. Montgomery is injured in an accident, and Bankhead has to find a way to pay for his medical expenses, and she turns to prostitution. When Montgomery finds out, instead of being furious with his wife, he is grateful to her, believing that what she is doing is a sacrifice for him. Not only is it wonderful pre-code, it’s a great love story.
A Royal Scandal (Ernst Lubitsch and Otto Preminger, 1945)
Her role in Faithless may be the role she was born to play, but Bankhead’s role as Catherine the Great in A Royal Scandal isn’t that far behind. It’s an Ernst Lubitsch picture, so even though it isn’t a pre-code film, there’s still a dash of sly and subversive naughtiness, which is a perfect fit for Bankhead.
When you see costumes like this in a classic movie, you’d probably be expecting some kind of costume drama. But A Royal Scandal is a comedy, a light and sexy Lubitsch comedy (though a good deal of it was directed by Otto Preminger due to Lubitsch’s illness), that Bankhead sparkles in. There’s just something in her personality that’s so suited to the genre, but this might be the only comedic film she ever made.
A Royal Scandal is just a delightful movie through and through. Sexy, silly, and fun, with Bankhead at her best.
By Katie Richardson