Play [by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber] was fine drama on the stage and has been translated to the screen in workmanlike manner, changes mostly being in the interest of condensation. For this reason the below stairs action among the servants has been deleted and the finish has been slightly changed to give a gag line to Marie Dressler, the latter being a first-rate device, handing the curtain to the principal two comedy characters – the ancient stage belle and the Jean Harlow role, who have been shrewdly emphasized in the film version.
The story grips from beginning to end with never-relaxing tension, its sombre moments relieved by lighter touches into a fascinating mosaic for nearly two hours. Play is a more searching document than Grand Hotel but not quite its equal in dramatic vividness.
Acting honors probably will go to Dressler and Harlow, the latter giving an astonishingly well-balanced treatment of Kitty, the canny little hussy who hooks a hard-bitten and unscrupulous millionaire and then makes him lay down and roll over.
Role of Carlotta doesn’t find Dressler in her popular vein. It’s a dressed-up part for one thing. But she handles this politer assignment with poise and aplomb.
John Barrymore’s playing of the has-been picture star is a stark, uncompromising treatment of a pretty thorough-going blackguard and ingrate. Billie Burke is eminently suited for the role of a fluttering society matron immersed in social trivialities while tragedy stalks unknowing through her home. Wallace Beery is again at home as the millionaire vulgarian, made to order for his type.