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I recently had the opportunity to see this obscure, forgotten film, and
I think it is a pretty good Pre-Code drama of marital infidelity.
According to IMDb.com, it is taken from a play by Ernest Pascal, who
also had a hand in the film, I believe. I find the film to be very
believable about the complications and complex emotions involved in
romance with married people. I've seen dozens of these early-30s
marital dramas, and some of them are very well done, others
unbelievable and over the top. But this one seems genuine to me, all
the characters acting in ways that real people probably would under
The star, Clive Brook, gives a genuine performance as the husband who can't make up his mind, between his wife (Vivienne Osborne) and girlfriend (Juliette Compton). He is the least- likable character in the movie, as he dithers around, and tortures everyone around him. But that is often the way people really act, in his situation. His wife and girlfriend are much more likable, and you find yourself sympathizing, and kind of rooting, for both of them. The actresses involved give very good performances. I haven't seen Vivienne Osborne in that many movies, but I remember her mostly as shrill, hysterical characters, such as her murderess in "Supernatural," with Carole Lombard. She is nothing like that here, and in fact, is the kind of wife and mother men would dream about. She is warm and sincere, and refuses to do what she knows is wrong, just because others urge her to do it. Juliette Compton is also very good. She makes the "other woman" character quite human, and she is very sympathetic in her desires and feelings. She really loves the Brook character, and isn't out for his money, or other stereotypical things. Really, all three people involved in this triangle come across as being human, and what they do is just what people really do. They don't act in the turgid, overly-dramatic fashion that so many early-Talkie characters do. They make you think of people you really know, who have been in similar situations.
I have always had mixed feelings about Clive Brook, as an actor. I've read that he was a great guy, and very well liked, in real life. But on screen, in the early '30s, he often came across as stiff and overly mannered. His face is a frozen mask in so many of these films. In "Shanghai Express," for example, you wonder why Marlene Dietrich is so crazy about him. He was a good actor, and it may have just been his manner, or an older acting style, but you often want to shake him, just to get a reaction. He seemed to relax, and lighten up, as the years went by, and when he pops up in later films, you are always glad to see him.
This film, like most others of that era, is chock full of good character actors. Charlie Ruggles, Charles Winninger, Elizabeth Patterson, Berton Churchill (here billed as Burton), and, in small roles, Harold Minjir and Noel Francis. The IMDb. cast list has 'Noel Madison' listed, not the beautiful Ms. Francis. I don't know if this is a mistake, or if he is in here somewhere, too. She isn't listed, but she is in there, in the party scenes. She was a gorgeous lady, who often played the "bad" other woman, and she had a distinctive look about her. Noel Madison often played toughs, and was an effective nasty. He shows up in "Little Caesar," as Pepe, and in "G- Men," and a Charlie Chan or two. He made a believable gangster. Harold Minjir played Franklin Pangborn types- the fussy secretary, hotel staff, etc. He was James Cagney's tailor, in a memorable scene in "The Public Enemy." Berton Churchill showed up in a zillion John Ford movies- notably "Stagecoach," as the larcenous banker. He often played such cowardly, blustering characters. Elizabeth Patterson is one of my favorites- the mother here. Charlie Ruggles is very good here, as the wisecracking brother-in-law, and he gets off some good zingers. The in-laws depicted in the film remind me of those you see in W.C. Fields movies- the cranky mother-in-law, etc. Though Fields made them funnier.
One thing that jumps out at you about this film is the sexual frankness involved. This is a Pre-Code movie, so that's not totally unexpected. But they say the word 'sex' a number of times directly, as in "I wonder what he sees in her?" "Sex" being the answer, etc. At one point, the girlfriend tells the wife that she is carrying her husband's baby, and the wife accuses her of using sex to control her husband. They are very honest and direct about it, just as people would be in real life. And possibly even more honest than some people would have been in 1931. It does make you jump, though. 80 years divide this film from this review, and so much wrangling has gone on in those years about censorship, that you kind of forget how honest movies could be at that time. Imagine them trying to film those scenes after 1934.
Anyway, I decided to put a review on here, as there aren't any others for this film. I'd never heard of it before, but I'm glad I saw it. The frankness I've mentioned has made it somewhat memorable for me. If you get a chance to see it-- probably not too likely-- you should take a look at it. Universal really should start putting these things out, either in another Pre-Code package, or as DVD-R discs, as Warners does. There are some gems out there, waiting to be re-discovered. And considering that Universal controls the 700 or so Paramount films, from 1929 to 1949, as well as their own films, they would have lots to choose from.
This is a forgotten precode from Paramount that is very good. Clive
Brook plays a man (George Boyd) with a good career, lovely wife
(Vivienne Osborne as Mary Boyd), and two great kids. He enters into an
affair and decides he wants a divorce. Mary won't give him one,
assuming that he'll have his "husband's holiday", tire of the affair,
and come back. She doesn't want to wind up like her mother who divorced
her dad over an affair and has ended up bitter and alone.
George seems to be settling into life as it is - living with the mistress and visiting his kids whenever he wants. His wife has made it easy for him, much to the chagrin of the mistress, who wants marriage. You have to wonder, why do all of these precode homewreckers want marriage as security when they got the husband by home wrecking in the first place? If it was easy for the guy to stray the first time it will be all the easier the second time. But I digress.
So the mistress goes to the wife (Mary) and tells her "the big lie" that she is going to have a baby. No dice. Mary stands firm and says that she doesn't see why she and her two children should have their lives disrupted over the mistress or her baby, and orders her out of the house. What changes her mind? When she discovers her own sister is in love with a married man, she begins to have compassion for the alternative point of view and tells George he can have his divorce. Now George is generous in his terms, but not so generous in his heart when one of his best friends comes to him and tells him that he intends to court and marry Mary after the divorce is final. How does this all work out? Watch and find out.
It was interesting to see Vivienne Osborne in the role of a normal person for once, after watching "Two Seconds" and "Supernatural". Charles Ruggles is great here as Mary's brother-in-law who does not play the drunk here for a change - Paramount should have let him play it sober more often! Clive Brook was always good in his silent and sound roles. I just don't think audiences were prepared to deal with that aristocratic British voice of his after seeing him in so many silent film roles.
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