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|Index||15 reviews in total|
This film is profoundly confused about what kind of morality it's
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.
Norma Shearer intrigued and interested me (in an uncanny way) ever
since I was kid and my fondness for Classic Hollywood Films began. I
first read about her in the late 1970s, but there was not much material
available of her. Norma's acting ability and beauty were not much
praised, she was permanently "accused" of overacting, but the authors
weren't able to deny her immense popularity and star appeal during her
heyday. Her charisma was huge.
It is true that in certain moments of specific films, especially talking pictures, she tends to overact and dramatize in excess her reactions, using certain mannerisms or posturing unnaturally. A sad example of this is the interesting "Strange Interlude", flawed, in my opinion among other facts, because of Norma's artificial performance in certain pivotal moments. There are other films in which she is uniformly good, like "Private Lives" (the best comedy of her I have seen to date) and "The Barretts of Wimpole Street" and "Smilin' Through" (ditto two of her best dramatic pictures).
"Strangers May Kiss" on the other hand, is the most Pre-Code film of Norma I have ever seen (and I have seen "The Divorcée", "A Free Soul" and "Riptide"). I also feel that Norma's performance has been unfairly criticized by some reviewers at IMDb.com, who accuse her of posturing and overacting. Well, I just watched this film yesterday and I was positively impressed by Norma's natural acting, for once, almost devoid of overacting, even in the dramatic moments.
Norma plays a modern Bostonian girl who (apparently) neglects marriage as something that kills passion and love. She's absolutely infatuated by the character played by Neil Hamilton. Bob Montgomery knows her since childhood and has always been in love with her. After certain events I won't tell about, Norma gets disillusioned of Hamilton and takes a crack at the wild life in Europe, turning into an outrageously promiscuous woman.
This film is one of the most Pre-Code films I have ever seen, specifically in relation to Norma's character. She's simply unashamedly immoral during her European spree (that lasts two years or more); I could not believe that Norma was allowed to play such an openly, in-your-face sexually voracious (for a while at least) lady (she had her reasons though, justified or not). From this film is that oft-quoted line: "I'm in an orgy wallowing and I love it!" Such (unpunished) behavior would have never-ever been allowed during the Code; Unthinkable.
Norma, Neil Hamilton and Bob Montgomery are good and believable in their respective roles. There is a first rate supporting cast lead by Marjorie Rambeau, Irene Rich and Hale Hamilton. Conchita Montenegro (who starred opposite Leslie Howard in "Never the Twain Shall Meet") plays a sexy Spanish dancer. Karen Morley, Ray Milland and Edward J. Nugent (aka Eddie Nugent) play bit roles.
The print I saw was taped off of TCM USA, but is not very good. I'd like to watch a fine print of this film, but I bet a better one does not exist anymore.
In all a fine and interesting precoder that has been unjustly neglected and underrated.
This is a precode movie starring Norma Shearer, who looks gorgeous in
all the gowns (and is that the way people dressed for a football game
in the '30s?). Shearer plays a free spirit who doesn't believe in
marriage and instead cavorts and travels with a reporter. Of course,
she's kidding herself, and she wanted the wedding ring all along - when
he announces he's been married the whole time and then breaks up with
her, she takes up with every man she meets. This is never actually
stated, which makes it kind of fun. Robert Montgomery says, "Boy, what
I heard about you in Paris." Shearer: "You didn't believe it, did you?"
Montgomery: "Not the first 6 or 700 times." Montgomery easily steals
the movie as her funny, charming, ever-drunk good friend. It's the best
role and holds up today. The other roles don't - the story is too
melodramatic, acted in an old-fashioned, hand on the forehead style
that dates it.
Added to that, the reporter character of Alan, played by Neil Hamilton, is despicable, making the film a frustrating experience for the viewer.
As an artifact and for the clothes and sets, you can't beat it, though.
I find much to agree with in all of the comments made about this film.
The hypocritical morals are obvious. The disparity between Norma
Shearer's acting style, nurtured in silent films, and Robert
Montgomery's style, which does anticipate a more modern approach, is
also apparent. The costumes and sets are marvelous and capture the
milieu with authenticity and panache. But not being a great fan of Miss
Shearer, I did, indeed, grow weary of seeing her throw her head back in
laughter. I wholeheartedly agree that Robert Montgomery steals the
The content of this film makes it racy in any era. The montage of scenes depicting Shearer with man after man makes the point clearly enough without being as explicit as a contemporary film. In fact that method of story telling is one of the key distinctions between films from the Golden Age of Hollywood and contemporary cinema. This method either appeals to an individual's tastes today or doesn't (and it is that bias which often forms the basis of comments found in forums such as this). For the record, I appreciate a less explicit approach to cinema.
The only point I would like to make more explicit is that I found it impossible to see what: 1) Miss Shearer's character saw in her caddish married lover or 2) what Mr. Montgomery's character saw in Miss Shearer's character. The only person who seemed the slightest bit attractive was Montgomery's character (despite his penchant for the bottle), who nobody found desirable.
Filmed today, this movie would probably explore the rejected woman's past, searching for psychological explanations for her preference of an abusive mate over a warm, caring one. This film, therefore, might have been an interesting psychological study and made a little more sense. But filmed in 1930, cinema had a long way to go before really delving into such explorations. Even Bette Davis' landmark portrayal of Mildred in 1934's "Of Human Bondage" is not so much an exploration as a portrait.
I give this film a 6 only because it contains the ever elegant Norma
Shearer swanning about in those great clothes of the 1930s. The plot
borders on the ludicrous......well, maybe I should say the ending is
ridiculous but the rest of the film is pretty well done.
Basically, it tells the story of a "modern" woman who believes that marriage is for chumps and proceeds to make a fool of herself over Neil Hamilton(!??!), while her faithful and always tipsy pal Robert Mongomery waits patiently in the wings in hopes of winning her hand. Hamilton is extremely unlikeable and after a long affair with Shearer, he deigns to tell her that he already has a wife in Paris but the marriage doesn't mean a thing. Does she care?....nooooo. But she takes up a life of "loose morality" and globe trots through most of cafe society while never forgetting her love for Hamilton. Robert Montgomery, always close by, pulls her irons out of the fire and brings her back to the United States to start over. Then, in the last few minutes of the film, the story descends to sheer melodrama and unbelievablitly. Who shows up but Hamilton, now divorced, and he and Shearer are seen walking out of the theater on their way to a happy life together. Give me a break!!! The attitude of the main protagonists toward man/woman relationships is rather hard to take in this day and age.......but with that said, it is still worth seeing this pre-Code slice of history. Nobody ever looked better on the screen than Mrs. Thalberg.
This movie was pure soap opera for 1931 audiences. Today it's rather "talkie" and the moral standards of the film by today's liberal standards are laughable. But the great Norma Shearer is always fun to watch, and Norma never looked better on the screen. Her Adrian designed gowns are breathtaking and she is nothing short of ravishing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As most other reviewers have pointed out-this woman's picture of 1931
has some very odd morality and that's what makes it a very interesting
relic. Norma Shearer is a liberated young woman who allows her lover to
have sex with her whenever he wants without his offering any sort of
commitment. He even announces after they have run off together that he
has a wife in Paris. Then he dumps her in Mexico. But she accepts all
this abuse because she still loves him and believes that marriage is
not necessary for happiness. However she is still so hurt by him, she
becomes a super slut and becomes well known among the elite Eurotrash
for her available sexuality. Then the lover sends her a telegram saying
he is divorcing his wife and will agree to marry her. Shearer is
thrilled until the lover finds out about her checkered European
adventures and dumps her. There is a "happy" ending when the lover
comes to his senses a year later and agrees to marry her.
Wow- talk about an abusive relationship, by todays standards.
All the while, Robert Montgomery as her best friend half heartedly offers to marry her whenever she gets upset. His character drinks throughout the movie. Montgomery gives the best performance and is quite charming. Today, we can interpret his actions as either deeply closeted or just someone who loves his liquor more than actively pursuing the love of his life.
Shearer has costume changes in nearly every scene. I am sure the female (and some male) audiences of the day loved it. As usual she is very chic. She has a tendency to pose, silent movie style occasionally- but I can fault the director . He should have reined her in. She didn't do that much when she worked with a stronger director like George Cukor. Shearer has loads of charisma that still come across today. The movie is worth checking out...
Do note that my high rating is mainly for lovers of precode. If you're
not familiar with the genre I'd start elsewhere to get acquainted with
it. Norma Shearer has two suitors in this one. Neil Hamilton plays a
real heel here as globe-trotting career-obsessed Alan Harlow who talks
the talk of romance yet has feet blocked in ice when it comes to
commitment. Robert Montgomery is the "good suitor" yet he is playing
his perpetual playboy character here who is always somewhat tipsy and
never serious about anything. He proposes marriage probably because he
hasn't thought it through in terms of what it means as far as him
curtailing his nightlife. He provides a reliable shoulder for Norma
when she needs one. It's no wonder that Norma comes to the
disillusioned conclusion that neither one of these guys is "the answer
to her maiden's prayer" as she puts it. Actually, although as others
have said, you'll walk away wondering just exactly what it is this
movie is trying to say, the viewing experience was a pleasurable one
for me. The main reason for that is that the characters will surprise
you with both their words and actions. The destination of the film is
probably where you guessed it will be, but the journey has some
interesting twists and turns. I'm not giving too many details here
because any description at all of the plot's trajectory would probably
spoil it. I will say that Robert Montgomery gets the best lines in this
one. His character is more sober than he would have you think.
Do note an uncredited part by Ray Milland as one of Norma's admirers in Europe who has just one interesting precode line - "she changes her men with her lingerie".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery made several films together and this one is not very well known. It's easily at the bottom of the films they made together like Private Lives and Riptide. This one stars off with Shearer and Montgomery as good friends and Shearer is engaged to marry Neil Hamilton. Hamilton is clearly a lowlife who doesn't even pretend to be faithful to Shearer. Montgomery knows this but Shearer won't believe it at first. Shearer then winds up going off to Mexico and then Europe where she does whatever she feels like. Hamilton finds her and tells her that he loves her and she is confused. The ending isn't very good like Leonard Maltin says in his review.
Very of its time and very tailored to its star: A love triangle that mainly allows La Shearer to wear great clothes, hog all the close-ups, emote theatrically, and win all the audience sympathy. Or most of it, because one of the two swains bidding for her is Robert Montgomery, and in the charm department he easily outclasses the competition, Neil Hamilton. The latter mistreats our Norma horribly, doesn't reveal that he's a married man until he's had his way with her (it's a pretty racy movie for its day), neglects and insults her and doesn't give her a chance to explain why she's become a loose woman (it's because he rejected her, the varmint). But she just goes on loving the rat. For an assembly-line early talkie, it features unusually snappy dialogue (John Meehan is one of the unsung heroes of MGM), and of course the Art Deco ambience is luscious. But the plot doesn't go where you want it to (i.e., this Hamilton guy just doesn't deserve the leading lady), and the 70-odd years have revealed Shearer's much-vaunted star quality to be mostly a bag of actressy tricks.
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