Elyot and Sibyl are being married in a big church ceremony. Amanda and Victor are being married by a French Justice of the Peace. Both couples go to a hotel on the same day and are put in ... See full summary »
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Gael García Bernal,
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Elyot and Sibyl are being married in a big church ceremony. Amanda and Victor are being married by a French Justice of the Peace. Both couples go to a hotel on the same day and are put in adjoining rooms with adjoining terraces. Things go fine until Amanda sees her former husband Elyot on the adjacent terrace. While they both pretend to be happy, both make plans to leave, but their spouses do not want to leave as it is their respective honeymoons. So the other spouses each go down to the bar. This leaves Elyot and Amanda together and they reminisce. Before long, the sparks again fly and they both decide to leave together to the Mountains of Switzerland. They love, they bicker, they fight, they stop. Then it begins over and over. Then Victor and Sibyl show up at their chalet. Written by
Tony Fontana <email@example.com>
When Elyot, Amanda and Oscar are riding on the gondola, Elyot and Amanda begin to argue. As their argument escalates, the two of them stand up and Oscar, listening quietly, stands up with them. Their is a cut to a medium shot of Oscar which shows him still seated. Then a return to the shot of the three of them which shows Oscar standing again. See more »
In MGM's rendering or Noel Coward's classic "comedy of bad manners," PRIVATE LIVES, about a couple who can't live without each other but can't live WITH each other either, the best of Coward's famous lines are preserved by a generally superior cast and the film is close to brilliant for it.
It's our loss however, that Noel Coward didn't have the clout or the concern that Bernard Shaw had in the 30's to demand that he himself provide his own screenplays when his stage plays were translated to the screen. When Hans Kraly, Richard Shayer and (the uncredited) Claudine West insist on earning their "scenario by" credit, the leaden insertions stick out like proverbial sore thumbs.
Only the charming, brief coda on a train added to the film after the play script ends is a satisfying addition, but it is a nice way to finish a delightful 84 minutes.
SOME of the ham handed alterations are not the fault of the Screenwriter's Guild contract or the Studio's concern that the film "not be TOO British." The time wasting substitution of a hiker's hostel (and, later, a private chalet) in the alps and a German speaking guide (played with a twinkle but no actual laughs by Jean Hersholt) for Coward's borrowed Paris flat and hilarious French speaking maid was clearly a bid for the then thriving pre-war German film market. It doesn't seriously hurt the film, but it doesn't help it an iota either.
Top billed Norma Shearer is quite fine as Amanda (Chase) Prynne who runs away from her honeymoon with Victor with her first husband, Elyot. She even sounds remarkably like the original stage Gertrude Lawrence, when she sings. Reginald Denny is everything one could wish in the role of the dimly proper Victor Prynne that gave Laurence Olivier his start on the stage, and Una Merkel is equally fine as the air headed Sybil Chase (famously asked not to "quibble"), the new wife abandoned by Robert Montgomery's Elyot Chase.
If there is a weakness in the film's acting, it is in the merely solid performance from Robert Montgomery - playing totally American and closer to Robert Young than Noel Coward (who wrote the part for himself and originated it in the London and Broadway stages). Nevertheless, to date, PRIVATE LIVES has been on Broadway at least seven times, and with the exception of Coward's original and Brian Bedford's dazzling work opposite the Tony winning Tammy Grimes in David Merrick's 1969-70 production, Montgomery may be the best of the major Elyots. The role's insecure flippancy makes it a close to impossible one to pull off as well as it is written, and Montgomery comes very close indeed.
Coward's other immortal comedy, BLITHE SPIRIT, which kept audiences on both sides of the Atlantic laughing through most of World War II, was filmed in England (and in color) just after the war, with a cast and script even closer to the spirit of the original, but the cinematic style has not aged nearly as well as this generally excellent PRIVATE LIVES. Still, BOTH of them should be near the top of the "must see" list for any lover of classic literate comedy.
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