I watched a pretty bad movie a couple of weeks ago, (“Charge of The Black Lancers” starring Mel Ferrer) in which the bad guy and gal were the most compelling characters in the the movie.* That started me thinking about movie bad guys like Basil Rathbone for instance, who had the unenviable task of playing the villain against the charismatic Erroll Flynn in both “Captain Blood” and “Robin Hood”. At some point it seems like these actors get typecast and that’s the only role they ever play, but I started to wonder, did they always play the bad guy? And of course, no, they did not.
Even Vincent Price had a straight role here and there. (From “The Private Lives of Elizabeth & Essex.”)
So in the interest of further research, I managed to stay awake through “Sin Takes a Holiday” (1930) starring Constance Bennett and Basil Rathbone. Constance Bennett plays Sylvia, a dull and depressed secretary to some sort of playboy lawyer named Gaylord Stanton, whom she is in love with. She droops over to his place one evening to work late, and has to suffer through a visit by bunch of his pals, who make her watch as they flippantly disparage the institution of marriage. Among them is the one gentleman in the room, Reggie Durant, played by Basil Rathbone who states his case while looking very debonair in a double-breasted suit.
A gaggle of women also show up, who have other ideas about marriage, including one who has been openly cheating on her husband and announces happily that her husband has filed for a divorce, so she can now marry Gaylord. But it turns out that he doesn’t want to marry her, so rather than break it off, he comes up with the excellent suggestion that he and his dowdy secretary marry (“in name only”), and the bonus for her is that she gets to travel around the world as a married woman on his money. It’s win win!
Except for poor old Reggie Durant, who encounters the newly married Sylvia on the ship on the Atlantic crossing, offers her a place to stay in Paris, and shows her a very nice time while she is abroad. They dine, they dance, they play a little chess. And despite the fact that she wears the same thousand mile stare on her face throughout the entire movie, he falls in love and asks her to divorce her fake husband to marry him.
But no, it’s not to be! The two return to New York, so that Sylvia can get a divorce, but really it’s to show her transformed self off to Gaylord, who predictably falls in love too, and stupid Sylvia chooses him, leaving poor old Reggie out in the hallway, still waiting to go to dinner. He’s the one who first recognized her charm! He treated her like the society lady that she now is, and she just shafts him. It’s definitely unromantic.
In the end, he’s philosophical about it, makes a real pre-code quip, and heads back to Paris, where it should take him about 5 minutes to rebound.
So that was that. Although he was the quasi romantic lead and definite good guy throughout the movie, poor old Basil Rathbone does not get the girl in the end, but we know he’ll land on his feet.
And there is more research to be done.