THE ROMANTIC AGE was sold as a flapper comedy, and Columbia probably expected a directorial cynicism to match a trite script whose introductory title notes that "Two thousand years ago, A. Sop (sic) said 'Romance is personified by lovers, glorified by an engagement, petrified by marriage, and simplified by divorce.'" Like many of director Robert Florey's studio pictures, THE ROMANTIC AGE offered little substance and was only made memorable by his direction. He turned THE ROMANTIC AGE into a serious love story, with more sentiment and sophistication than melodrama. At the same time, all the romantic scenes are treated with a European sensibility, a light yet knowing and distanced tone that revealed Florey's enormous admiration for the continental approach brought to the genre by Ernst Lubitsch. The plot concerns a flighty woman's maturation as she learns to appreciate the love of a dependable middle aged man--although neither Alberta Vaughn nor Eugene O'Brien resemble the respective youth or age of the characters they play. Vaughn's infectious but naively innocent joi de vivre is indicated early by the elderly, staid butler, who disapproves of her ways but privately begins to dance after watching her example.
The danger supposedly inherent in her lifestyle erupts after an innocent flirtation with her suitor's younger, irresponsible brother, who leaves her bonds in an unlocked safe where they will be menaced by a fire. Vaughn realizes her error, as the true lovers are reunited with a distinctly Lubitsch touch. She calls on the suitor, her clothes soaked, and after he looks up at the clear, starry sky, she explains that she encountered "a vulgar boatman." Moments later they share a lingering kiss as the camera pans down the couple standing together to reveal the growing puddle left by her wet dress.
There are many such visuals in THE ROMANTIC AGE. The isolation of objects from their context, breaking them into fragments, reflects the influence of the Russian montage school. In the opening shots, as the girl dresses, she remains unseen as the camera focuses first on her feet, then the application of makeup, followed by the lifting of roses. Finally, the heroine is introduced in a closeup via a mirror, followed by the title noting her name and the first full shot of her standing. Later, shots of dancing feet indicate how O'Brien feels unable to follow Vaughn's fast steps. The faces of Vaughn's girl friends, arrested in a speakeasy and taken to jail in a wagon, are scanned by a camera moving alongside at a slightly slower speed. A nearly subjective moving camera photographs the couple's car going down hill, out of control, descending at the same distance until both come to rest at a gas station.
THE ROMANTIC AGE demonstrates the skill with low budgets and fast shooting (it was filmed in about 10 days for $20,000) that would mark Florey's career. Unsatisfied, THE ROMANTIC AGE (which survives at MOMA), was one of four such directorial efforts that convince him to break outside poverty row and try experimental film-making. Such films in the next couple of years as THE LIFE AND DEATH OF 9413A Hollywood EXTRA, THE LOVE OF ZERO, and SKYSCRAPER SYMPHONY would launch him as a director for the major studios. Nonetheless, THE ROMANTIC AGE (which survives at MOMA) reveals a number of the stylistic devices he would bring to the avant-garde.
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