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Fay Wray and Robert Riskin, The Blogathon: 'Virtue' & 'The Wedding March'



"Virtue," Carole Lombard's first loan-out from Paramount (made for Columbia in 1932), unveiled a tougher side to this 23-year-old ingenue than had heretofore been seen. Playing a former New York prostitute who hides her past from her cab-driving husband, Lombard shows a complexity not present in her previous characters. It was written by a man who'd also enter her romantic life for a while -- Robert Riskin.



This entry is part of "Fay Wray and Robert Riskin, The Blogathon," commemorating this iconic Hollywood couple and a book recently released about them written by their daughter, Victoria Riskin.



The Wray segment will follow, but first, let's examine "Virtue" -- a film we've written about several times (https://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/946397.html) -- in terms of what it meant for Riskin and his career.

In 1932, Riskin, already noted for his realism, was in his second year in Hollywood (and Columbia), having worked on several films directed by his frequent collaborator, Frank Capra (including dialogue for "Platinum Blonde" and the story and dialogue for the Walter Huston vehicle "American Madness"). "Virtue" came two films after "Madness," adapted from an Ethel Hill story; its director was not Capra, but Edward Buzzell.



While the subject matter, tame by our standards, probably prevented "Virtue" from becoming a huge hit among general audiences, it did reasonable business. For Lombard, it showed that "poverty row" Columbia and its coarse boss, Harry Cohn, gave her acting skills more respect than Paramount, where she was part of an actress assembly line.



It continued Riskin's steady ascent among screenwriters; In 1933, he and Capra teamed for the Runyonesque "Lady For A Day," and the year after that, they hit the jackpot, each winning Oscars for "It Happened One Night." By the end of '34, Riskin -- formerly the romantic interest of Glenda Farrell -- was seen with Lombard, the former wife of William Powell.



While that ultimately didn't work out, they remained friends and by the early '40s, Riskin and Wray became an item.




This is the only visual link I know of between Lombard and Wray, from Motion Picture in August 1931. I'm guessing they met a few times and were cordial; as far as I know, Carole and Fay never vied for the same role. But while the Lombard of 1928 was either in Mack Sennett comedies or playing supporting roles in features, Wray that year was a leading lady in an A-list production. And what a production it was.



The landmark series "Hollywood" proved once and for all that by the last days of silents, its sophistication had grown by leaps and bounds. Think of some of the films released in '28 -- "The Crowd," "Show People" (both from King Vidor), "Laugh, Clown, Laugh" (where a 15-year-old Loretta Young starred opposite Lon Chaney Sr.) and so many more.

"The Wedding March" was a sublime piece of cinema from the fabled actor-director Erich von Stroheim. He plays a Viennese army officer from a rundown noble family who falls for a commoner played by Wray. Class problems get in the way of romance.



It was a troubled production, something that was no stranger to von Stroheim. Shooting began in June 1926 and the film was shut down due to cost overruns in January 1927. After numerous re-edits, it finally was released in October 1928 as the first of a planned two-part film; the second part, called "The Honeymoon," was not issued in the U.S., and the only known surviving copy was lost to fire in 1959.

As for "The Wedding March," it's disjointed but exquisite. I saw it on video in the late 1980s, and Wray is wonderfully subtle, a far cry from her later "scream queen" image. Zasu Pitts -- part of von Stroheim's cast for his stunted 1923 epic "Greed" -- also is among the cast.



"The Wedding March" held a special place in Wray's heart, and she called it her favorite performance. (She gave many good ones, in all sorts of films.) I'm uncertain as to whether an authorized DVD or Blu-ray has been made available.

For more blogathon entries, visit https://aurorasginjoint.com/2019/03/02/fay-wray-and-robert-riskin-the-blogathon-day-one/.

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