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I first saw BECKY SHARP (1935) when I ran it as part of my program at Rochdale College in Toronto in the 1970s. My interest stemmed from the fact this is the first feature film shot in three strip Technicolor. Note: This trailer does not do the film justice.

BECKY SHARP has a lot more going for it than that. Miriam Hopkins, for one thing, is an actress I will watch washing the laundry. Everything she does in all of her roles–even things most mundane–becomes interesting precisely because she is doing them.

Give her a part where she can really sink her teeth into the role, as she has here, well, the results are nothing less than wonderful.

BECKY SHARP was produced at that moment just before The Motion Picture Production Code and The Catholic Legion of Decency (has anything ever been more indecent) strangled the life out of the movies. It is a matter of historical record that once the movies were forced to “clean up their act” the public began to lose interest in them.

Based on Thackeray’s novel VANITY FAIR, BECKY SHARP is the story of a poor girl brought up in the best schools only to find that the luxuries lavished upon the girls who surround her are not to be hers, specifically the husbands. Becky is dirt poor and I do mean dirt.

Well, like all us dirt not having money she’s forced to use her brains.  Becky has more than a few things going for her those  “well bred” girls lack. Well bred in this case mean girls from families with money who sit on their verandas commenting on how lazy the rest of us are.

Add to this that Becky is a lot more interesting than those well bred girls we can understand why Becky becomes the ruin of many a good husband. Those husbands were not so good to begin with.

It came as a surprise to find Alan Mowbray, an actor who never played romantic leads, cast here as the one man Becky is true to. She loves him with all her being.

When he faces disaster over gambling debts Becky turns to the Marquis of Steyne (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) whose desire for her almost overwhelms his senses. Hardwicke ably presents the lust of his character with closeups that stop just short of him drooling. As I said, this film was made just before censorship cut the balls off the movies. Technicolor makes the red flush of his lust all the more repellent. It’s no wonder that at one time over 65% of the population was going to the movies on a regular basis.

Rouben Mamoulian directs. He was not the first choice. That was Lowell Sherman who had brought Mae West’s first starring film SHE DONE HIM WRONG to the screen. Unfortunately Sherman died so the producers turned to Mamoulian who was more than up to the task.

Hollywood traditionally “spares no expense” when bringing stories to the screen. At least, that’s what the ads tell us.

Unfortunately when those films were brought back for revival every corner that could be cut too often was.

Thus BECKY SHARP, the film that introduced full three strip Technicolor, was re-issued in the cheaper two color process CINECOLOR. As a result the full glory of this film was almost lost.

It’s still not back 100%.

Fortunately the dawn of home cinema showed that there is a real value to those old reels left to rot in movie vaults. As a result the studios are doing their best to restore them which is good for us and good for the history of motion pictures.

The result is that we are able to see Becky Sharp the bad girl so much more interesting than the good girls men run from to be consumed like moths before her flame almost as she should be seen.

I don’t want to say too much more as I risk the chance of spoiling your desert if I do.

Watch BECKY SHARP for yourself.

I will say that when Becky opens a window and bounces a book of Bible maxims off the head of her latest upper class “virtuous” benefactor I said, “Thank God!”

And thank God for this wonderful restoration of Becky Sharp.

P.S. The commentary track by Jack Theakston fills us in on everything we need to know. Watch the film without it first. Then watch it with it. When you do your enjoyment will be even more enhanced.

BECKY SHARP looks almost better than when seen in first release. If the full three color film existed (it doesn’t) I would say better than when first shown.

Thank God the home market has made these treasures once again things to be treasured by those who had forgotten their value. These films are like those remarkable things I sometimes find thrown on to the sidewalk with the trash. If the people who threw them out knew their value they would not have been so silly.

–Reg Hartt 4/19/2019.

More on BECKY SHARP here:

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