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Probably could not be made the year before or the year after...
... given its subject matter. This is not a precode at all. Rather it is the filmed version of a 1928 play that made perfect sense in the roaring 20's. This film could not be made before 1930 because sound films hadn't evolved to the point where dialogue and movement could be shown as they are here. It could not be made after 1930 for several years (It was filmed again in 1938) because depression era audiences would simply be befuddled at a young woman (Ann Harding as Linda) who is so unhappy and bored with her rich lifestyle while many in the audience would just want to know when they are going to eat again.
The story revolves around a rich young woman, Julia Seton (Mary Astor), who is returning home with her fiancé (Robert Ames as Johnny Case), whom she has known for only ten days. The Setons are terribly rich - I mean how many homes have elevators in 1930? - and they are divided into two groups. The stodgy business centric part of the family that runs things headed by patriarch Edward Seton (William Holden - no not THAT William Holden), and the unhappy Setons who seemed trapped on a merry go round from which they cannot get off. These are Julia's two siblings, Ned (Monroe Owsley) who drinks heavily to deal with the fact that he has no say in his own life, and Linda (Ann Harding), free in spirit but not in deed.
Johnny has a strange idea of how to live his life. He has been buying some stocks and as soon as he gets enough money together, he wants to go on "holiday". He wants the retirement part of his life to be when he is young, not just to have fun but to make sure that what he does for the rest of his life is what he really wants to do. Linda thinks this idea is grand, but fiancée Julia just thinks this is a goofy notion from which she can eventually distract him.
You'll notice that from the moment they arrive, Johnny seems to spend all of his time conversing with Linda and that Julia spends most of her time conversing with her "bucks on the brain" Dad. Complications ensue.
Ann Harding does have some dialogue and over the top moments that only someone as regal as she could pull off. Lots of actresses would have looked silly going on and on about how the playroom was the only place in the family mansion in which she was ever happy. Plus, she is making a BIG leap of faith in her final decision in the film. It is easy to see why Katharine Hepburn was cast to play Linda in the 1938 remake - they have very similar acting styles.
Let me also compliment Mary Astor's acting here. As both Johnny's fiancée and her father's daughter you are never quite sure where she is coming from up to the very end.
Edward Everett Hornton and Hedda Hopper have a small but crucial role as a couple who are friends of Linda and have a sense of humor that most of the stodgy Setons do not appreciate, but are needed to show that Linda does at least have some allies in her life. Highly recommended.
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