Unless you’re a silent film or early talkies enthusiast, Billie Dove may be a foreign name. That’s bound to change if you check out the Warner Archive DVD release One Night At Susie’s (92 minutes), a New York set drama released in 1930.
Dove is Mary Martin, a beautiful girl enamored with Dick Rollins (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), an aspiring writer who pays the bills as a Broadway press agent. The pair are engaged to be married, much to the chagrin of Dick’s overprotective foster mom Susie (Helen Ware). It’d be foolish to cross Susie, as she runs a tough as nails boardinghouse that’s also a meeting place for mobsters.
The gangsters treat Susie as their surrogate mom, and often they’ll ask for advice (or permission) to transact their various “business” deals. When Mary kills a lecherous producer in self-defense, Dick takes the fall and ends up in the slammer, leading Susie to harbor further ill will towards the doe-eyed showgirl.
Though it’s a whisper over an hour, One Night at Susie’s packs a ton of story within its constricted length, as we witness Mary’s gradual rise to fame. As much as he loves Mary, Dick’s main concern is to see his plays make it on Broadway, and when his latest project gets rejected across town, his determination to push through his jail time starts to wane.
With Mary determined to make Dick happy at any price, certain compromises and decisions must be made. James Crane co-stars as Houlihan, an weaselly informant who knows a secret about Mary that will completely tear Dick apart.
Will Susie and Mary ever make up or at least form a truce? Or is Houlihan, who also has eyes for Mary, going to ruin her relationship with Dick?
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. may be the most recognizable name in the cast, but One Night at Susie’s belongs to Billie Dove and Helen Ware. Both actresses deliver fine work in their respective roles, with Ware getting the lion’s share of the picture’s more humorous moments (Susie is a woman who suffers no fools, and Ware knows how to throw her weight around a room – even if it’s filled with gangsters).
Dove, who worked with Douglas Fairbanks in The Black Pirate, has palpable chemistry with his son in One Night at Susie’s. Though Ware has the showiest role, it’s Dove who covers a wide array of emotional ground (love, heartbreak, horror, fear), proving she’s not just another pretty face.
It’s a shame Dove would make just several movies before retiring in 1932 (her last film, Blonde of the Follies, co-starred Marion Davies), since she’s one of the rare actresses to make a seamless transition from silent films to talkies. One Night At Susie’s is a great introduction to Billie Dove’s versatile talents (she died in 1997 at the Motion Picture Country House & Hospital in Woodland Hills, Ca.). For an article detailing Dove’s final years at the hospital, check out this Los Angeles times piece from 2010.
One Night at Susie’s is a Manufactured on Demand (MOD) title. To order the DVD: http://bit.ly/XWvUjH