THE SCREEN IN REVIEW; ‘ The Gay Sisters,’ Featuring Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, Geraldine Fitzgerald and Donald Crisp, at Strand
Published: August 15, 1942
The New York Times
What a long, gray and pretentious film “The Gay Sisters” is! Another pointlessly caustic inquiry into the lives of the eccentric off-spring of a once grand family, the new film at the Strand not once offers the slightest reason to warrant the telling of its involved and trivial story. “We Gaylords are a queer lot,” says Barbara Stanwyck as the hard-hearted sister who brings the trio to ruin and then in the last reel quite inexplicably relents. That statement may serve as the nub of a theme which is expanded, repeated and proven for no less than 101 tortured minutes. If the screen must be visited by such a weird family group, not to mention the assorted neurotics entangled with it, let us at least have just and reasonable cause. Simply to prove that life produces a singularly large crop of disagreeable people is hardly enough.
Actually the author is playing at drama with the dice loaded in favor of a dour point of view. Aside from a brace of barristers who behave with decent decorum, hardly a character on the roster acts on normal impulse. Fiona with her tyrannical pride has contested a charitable clause in her father’s will for two decades with a man, who, it finally appears, is her husband and father of her child as the result of a sordid encounter. Evelyn marries an English baron but returns to allow her ungovernably promiscuous romantic impulses to alienate temporarily the affection of an “unhappy” modern painter for her younger sister, Susanna, who is nearly as hysterical after her own fashion.
And out of a story nearly as scrambled as the psyches of its assorted characters, George Brent, as the husband, seems mighty daft too. After long years of legal wrangling, after being paid off for a marriage he sincerely entered, after endless diatribe and hatred against him, he still loves Fiona with all the ardor of a spring buck at the finale. Certainly the rapprochement of the “lovers” is one of the more gruesome happy endings devised. “This room stinks like apple blossoms,” says Fiona as they embrace, thus causing considerable hilarity in the Strand balcony.
No, “The Gay Sisters” are neither significant in their viciousness, nor acute in their mockery of themselves. They are simply a bad lot and dull as well. Of the cast, Miss Stanwyck brings bite to her role, but flinches, as well she may, in the “big moments.” Geraldine Fitzgerald and Nancy Coleman are caricatures and Gig Young and George Brent are simply colorless and incomprehensible. All of them seem to be feeling their way around in the gloom.
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