Our Modern Maidens

MGM pays tribute to the revved-up late 1920s in “Our Modern Maidens,” a 1929 film starring Joan Crawford, Anita Page and Douglas Fairbanks, Junior.  MGM added sound effects, but the mostly silent picture follows the story of Billie, the most popular girl among a fabulously rich and hard-partying crowd.  (On a train trip, a porter announces, “Lunch is poured!”)

Joan Crawford (left) and Anita Page in “Our Modern Maidens.”

Billie wants to marry boyfriend Gil (Fairbanks), but his success in life depends on a coveted appointment to the diplomatic service in Paris.  When Billie meets chief diplomat Glenn Abbott on the train, she flirts with him for the purpose of securing his influence for Gil’s appointment.  Glenn falls for the alluring and perky Billie, and believing that she feels the same, he romances her.    Meanwhile, Billie’s friend, Kentucky (Page), falls for Gil, and they have and affair that leads to Kentucky becoming pregnant.

Normally, sound films project at 24 frames per second, but silent films feature variable frame speeds.  That’s why silent films sometimes seem so sped up; they’re projecting wrongly.  When MGM added the soundtrack to Our Modern Maidens, they set the projection speed at 24 frames, so the action in Our Modern Maidens seems rushed at times.  Crawford brings all her physical gifts to the part, but the projection speed interferes with the exquisite timing of her movements.  The sound bits include a radio announcement at the beginning and crowd and partying noises for the rest of the picture.

Crawford performs a sexy dance routine at a lavish party, complete with a revealing costume.  Fairbanks entertains the party crowd with impersonations of John Barrymore, John Gilbert and Douglas Fairbanks, Senior (as Robin Hood).  I couldn’t keep my eyes off Anita Page, however.  Kentucky’s relationship with Billie seems more believable than anything Billie generates with Glenn.  Glenn, nicknamed “Dynamite,” doesn’t come across as a sympathetic character.  Jack Conway, the director, also directed the great 1936 film, “Libeled Lady.”

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