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Lisbeth is a modern woman who thinks that marriage is old fashioned. She has two men in her life; Steve, who wants to marry her and Alan, who wants her to travel with him. Despite all the warnings by her friends and family, Lisbeth goes to Mexico with Alan where she is happy until she finds out that he has a wife in Paris and that he is leaving for his next job without her. Devastated, she spends a few years in Europe being the life of the party. While her reputation is well known, her life of gaiety has not made her happy. Written by
Tony Fontana <email@example.com>
Pre-Code film with a different version of pre-Code morality
This film is profoundly confused about what kind of morality it's embracing.
Norma Shearer plays a modern young woman, having an affair with a dashing foreign correspondent (Neil Hamilton, in his first role with MGM). Her long-time friend Steve (the eternally effervescent Robert Montgomery), who has an inclination towards drink, has been in love with Shearer all their lives, but she won't give him a tumble (she actually uses that hoary old line, "I love you, but I'm not in love with you"). Shearer and Hamilton have no interest in marrying, but prefer their open relationship. Shearer's aunt extols the joy of marriage one evening, but when she sees her husband of 12 years kicking up his heels with a bimbo, she goes home and kills herself.
Shearer and Hamilton head off for Mexico, where Hamilton reveals that he actually has a wife back in Paris (so apparently he DID once believe in marriage...). He leaves for Rio and refuses to take Shearer. She proceeds to sleep her way across Europe in order to drown her grief, which, of course, is one way of dealing with it. Montgomery finds her two years later in Spain where, despite her string of dalliances, he still tries to marry her. But Shearer gets a cable from Hamilton who has now divorced his French wife and is waiting in Paris, willing to marry. By the time Shearer responds, however, Hamilton has heard about her past two years of affairs, and is so repulsed that he never wants to see her again. He claims she should have WAITED for him, DESPITE her not knowing if she would EVER see him again. And...she AGREES. The level of double standard is staggering.
Montgomery, however, STILL wants to marry her. Hamilton claims that a marriage to Shearer would leave him haunted by those "shadows on the wall," but Montgomery says, "What wall?" But Shearer says no. She says, in fact, that his wanting to marry her knowing of her promiscuous past proves that he doesn't actually love her.
A year or so later, Montgomery and Shearer are at the theater, when they run into Hamilton. Time has mellowed him a bit, and he tells Shearer that they belong together. Montgomery watches her go, observing wryly that at least he'll always have a champagne bottle waiting for him.
So, first, let's establish that I'm a huge fan and avid watcher of pre-Code film, and I'm not trying to judge this movie with a 21st-century sensibility. But let's figure out what the film is telling us:
1) marriage isn't necessary if there is true love (Shearer and Hamilton, at the beginning)...2) marriage can only lead to heartbreak, because the man will inevitably cheat (Shearer's aunt and uncle)...3) men can abandon wives and go off with lovers and embrace free love and that's OK (Shearer and Hamilton in Mexico)...4) women can't (Shearer and Hamilton in Paris)...5) men who love women who've had promiscuous pasts don't really love them (Shearer and Montgomery)...6) women should wait forever for the man they love, through all the misunderstandings and rejections, and never ever get involved with anyone else, on the off chance that the man they love will decide they belong together (throughout)...7) a man who wants to marry a woman despite her promiscuous past can't actually love her, although a man who has punished and heaped contempt on said woman and then finally decides he wants to marry her despite it DOES actually love her
Well. This film sends so many mixed signals, you need an air traffic controller.
Interestingly, in the novel on which this film is based, the Shearer character eventually commits suicide after years of waiting in vain for the Hamilton character to return to her. So, the mixed signals may come from the Frankenstein-like effort of fusing a happy-ending head onto the original tragic body.
Montgomery is, as always, charming and natural, which shows up in stark contrast with Shearer's silent-movie-born overacting. You may want to stab yourself in the eye after watching Shearer throw back her head and laugh gaily for the umpteenth time. Hamilton does a serviceable job in a thankless role, but it's always difficult to keep from visualizing Police Commissioner Gordon when he's on screen.
I found this movie almost unbearably frustrating--but that's just me. Others, clearly, were more open to it. But I prefer a film that obeys its own internal logic, no matter how screwy it may be in relation to "reality." "Strangers May Kiss" doesn't carry that off.
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