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The Common Law (1931)

Passed | | Romance, Drama | 24 July 1931 (USA)
Young Valerie models for an American painter who tries to make a future in Paris and they fall in love.



(adapted from his novel by), (screen story) | 1 more credit »
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Complete credited cast:
Lew Cody ...
Dick Carmedon
Robert Williams ...
Mrs. Claire Collis
Stephanie Brown
Walter Walker ...
John Neville Sr.


Young Valerie models for an American painter who tries to make a future in Paris and they fall in love.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


"I don't care what people say...as long as you say you love me!" (print ad)


Romance | Drama


Passed | See all certifications »





Release Date:

24 July 1931 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Agrafos nomos  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Photophone System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.20 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


John Neville Sr.: You're getting more like your mother every day.
Mrs. Claire Collis: I should think that would make you very happy.
John Neville Sr.: It does. And a little apprehensive.
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User Reviews

Free love and nude modeling won't keep a girl from finding happiness
10 January 2000 | by (Los Angeles) – See all my reviews

The common law in "The Common Law" is that a girl is better off married than living in sin. That's a message that the Hays Code censors could have gotten behind, but they never could have approved this 1931 film. In 1931, the Hays Code was in effect but the Production Code Administration and its tough boss Joe Breen, which rigidly enforced the Code, didn't come into existence until 1934. As a result, the studios were able to ignore the Code and get away with sexual themes that would soon become utterly unthinkable. This was a necessity in 1931 because sex brought people into the theaters and the industry was desperate to sell tickets during the depths of the Depression.

Valerie West, an American in Paris, makes her living by being the mistress of a rich American, Dick Cardemon, but she dumps him and starts a career as a nude model. She models for a mediocre but rich American painter named John Neville who falls madly in love with her. However, he evidently assumed she was a virgin because he dumps her when he finds out about Cardemon.

Later Valerie manages to pick up John once again at a very sexy Artists' Ball (there's a still photo of the ball in Vieira, "Sin in Soft Focus" (1999), p. 56). This time Valerie and John decide to live together without getting married, but that causes quite a scandal back home. John's snooty family tries to break them up, but...

The film is a very effective attack on the sexual double standard and on American upper-class conspicuous consumption, snootiness, and prudishness. Attacks on the upper class were quite popular in the early 1930's, given people's desperation in the Depression and the natural tendency to blame the rich for what happened. The film also shows that a smart, spunky, and beautiful girl can make very good despite having engaged in lots of free love (not to mention nude modeling) with rich men. Valerie is not punished for all that sin--in violation of the so-called "compensating values" norm later enforced by Breen and the Production Office. That norm would require that she receive some horrible punishment for engaging in extra-marital sex--but quite to the contrary, Valerie comes out just fine.

The film is an exceptionally interesting example of the kind of movies that were made at the beginning of the sound era but before the curtain came down in 1934 on candid treatments of sexual behavior.

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