Body and Soul. 1931. USA. Directed by Alfred Santell. With Charles Farrell, Elissa Landi, Humphrey Bogart, Myrna Loy. 35mm. 83 min.
“I wasted seven good years of my life there,” was Elissa Landi’s verdict on Hollywood after she left the studios for good in 1937. Landi had reason to feel that way, her once-promising stardom having devolved into a supporting role in After the Thin Man (1936) and an even smaller turn in a B picture called The Thirteenth Chair. Her modern name recognition has faded considerably, with only two of her starring roles revived with any frequency (Cecil B. DeMille’s admirably bonkers 1933 The Sign of the Cross and the 1934 version of The Count of Monte Cristo). A deeper dive into Landi’s filmography, however, reveals a deft actress, too subtle and individual to offer an easy way for the PR departments to market her. Body and Soul, the first film she made after signing with Fox, finds her character tangled up in intrigues involving World War I British aviators in France; Charles Farrell is the lover who misunderstands her circumstances. It’s directed with grace and assurance by Alfred Santell, whom MoMA curator Dave Kehr has described as an “underrated filmmaker in need of rediscovery.”