Monday, January 14, 2013
Greta Nissen in The Circus Queen Murder (Columbia, 1933)
Trivia from the Internet Movie Database:
"Greta Nissen, who plays Josie La Tour, was the female lead in the never-released silent version of Howard Hughes Hell's Angels. Since her German accent would have been unbelievable as the voice of an Englishwoman, she was replaced by Jean Harlow in the sound version."
As faithful readers if this blog will know, I warn everyone to use the Imdb with extreme caution and the above quote demonstrates why.
Of course, first of all, Greta Nissen was Norwegian and not German. (Josie LaTour, the character she plays in The Circus Queen Murder, however, is German and actually speaks that language with her lover, Donald Cook.) Greta did have a slight accent, but it was indeed slight and she would have made as good an Englishwoman as the very American Jean Harlow in Hell's Angels. The reason for the recast was probably more a scheduling conflict than any problems with accents, a much overblown rationale for early talkie mayhem that has more to do with Singing in the Rain, I fear, than historical fact.
Nissen, from Oslo, had trained as a dancer and appeared with Danish screen comedy duo Pat & Patachon prior to making her Broadway debut in a Ned Wayland extravaganza in 1924. That in turn led to a contract with Paramount and a series of highly successful programmers. She did three with suave Adolphe Menjou, the future star of Circus Queen Murder, and was languidly seductive in several highly suspect bible adaptations directed by Raoul Walsh. Then came Howard Hughes and Hell's Angels, but the loss of the female lead in that WWI spectacular did not ruin her career but instead opened up new doors at Fox. The reason for Greta Nissen's fading career in the thirties was more due to her never caring all that much, it appears. She wasn't aggressive enough, according to her second husband, and widower, Stuart Eckert, reached by this author in 1994 in preparation for my first book, "Strangers in Hollywood." "It may seem strange to you," Mr. Eckert explained to me, "but I never did see any if her films." When she retired after a British quota quickie released in 1937, Greta Nissen truly retired.
Meanwhile, The Circus Queen Murder is a nifty enough little thriller with the expected maniacal performance by Dwight Frye as Greta's cuckolded husband. The real mystery here is why Frye, not Greta Nissen, faded into obscurity so quickly.