On New Year's Eve, Geraldine ('Jerry') Trent decides to break up with her boyfriend Jim Woodward, having finally grown tired of his dishonesty and his infidelities. Soon afterward, Geraldine meets and falls in love with novelist Anthony Blake. Blake knows that she has had a man in her past, but he is content as long as he never finds out who it was. All seems well until her sister Joan returns from a trip, and happily introduces Woodward as the new man in her life. Written by
Contains an early audio jump cut: Gerry Trent in New York says, "Four-fifteen here. Let's see. Over there it must be ...", which cuts to Jim Woodward aboard ship, saying, "Nine-fifteen - we're away on time." See more »
Swanson is really terrific, the story is strong and decent, though a bit ordinary
"I guess I'm just a modern girl with an old fashion conscience." This is Gloria Swanson's character facing what must have been a nearly universal problem of a young woman in the 1920s and 30s. (The parallel these days would be the problem many women face of choosing between career and family.) The problem is severe here, because it has to do with love. And women were expected to save their virtue (at least physically) for the one they would marry. And if they did not "wait" (as no doubt many or most did not, one way or another), should the "tell" the one they are to be with for good.
This is a lot to handle--it's real, it matters, and it treads on themes not easily touched in movies without being too frank. Luckily this is pre-Code Hollywood and there was room for diving in, a little.
The best parts of this movie are simply incredible. The writing and acting in the long scene about twenty minutes in is as tender and honest and nuanced as it gets. The man playing against Swanson in this section is good, an excellent support who doesn't overplay his hand, but it's Swanson who makes it a sincerely felt and penetrating.
The filming throughout is fairly simple. Sometimes there is a sense of camera movement to help inhabit the space, but more often it's about tight framing and composition, which is just a step from the frozen camera on a tripod. This pushes more importance on the actors, their movements and expressions.
Swanson is most famous as a silent actress. This is partly because she really was a legendary silent star (her most famous movies might be "Sadie Thompson" in 1928 or the earlier "Don't Change Your Husband", but she also did a quasi-pre-cursor to this, "The Scarlet Letter" in 1926). But Swanson is also the great silent icon in Billy Wilder's 1950 "Sunset Blvd," and this oddly is her greatest fame (and for good reason, she's amazing, as is the movie). But here, in 1931, we have an early talkie with Swanson doing just fine in normal voice, even singing some.
The director here, it might be fun to note, also directed such enduring gems as the two versions of the same story, "Love Affair" and "Affair to Remember," as well as a pair of snappy Dunne/Grant movies. This one shows the early talent for comedy and serious drama rolled into a single movie with surprising force.
To be clear, there are lots of this movie that don't rise up. It's all entertaining and generally well executed (you have to overlook a couple of hammy secondary characters). But it doesn't gel or show even the originality of the movies of its own time, let alone over time. If you like this era and these themes, or Gloria Swanson, do check it out. Avoid the easily downloaded version (legally) on the internet--the sound is atrocious and fragmented.
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