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Robert Z. Leonard
Rod La Rocque,
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The thoughts that people think are never the same as the words they speak - and in this movie, we can hear the thoughts. Gordon Shaw was a flyer who was shot down and killed during WWI. Nina would have married him before he left, but her father forbade the marriage. Charlie is a friend, but Nina does not love him and he is too timid- too shy - to tell her the way that he feels about her. Sam is her husband and her love disappears after the ceremony when she finds out that there is mental illness in his family and that there can be no children. To have the child she wants, but cannot have with Sam, she has a secret affair with Ned, who wants her to leave Sam. Gordon is the result of the affair, but he does not know Ned is his real father. Nina continues to play with the emotions of all three men and devote herself only to Gordon. Written by
Tony Fontana <email@example.com>
Of all the films adapted from his plays released in his lifetime, this is the adaptation Eugene O'Neill reportedly liked the least, maintaining that Hollywood had "censored it into near-imbecility." See more »
Dr. Ned Darrell:
[Thinking to himself about telling Sam the truth]
I couldn't tell him. To kill happiness is a worse crime thn taking a life.
See more »
O'Neill's Third Pulitzer Prize Play: not easy, but fulfilling
It would be all too easy for the immature film goer to dismiss this fascinating film as soap opera, but Eugene O'Neill's mammoth 1928 play (revived on Broadway in 1963 and 85) - his third after BEYOND THE HORIZON (see THE LONG VOYAGE HOME for a film of his "sea plays") and ANNA Christie to win the Pulitzer Prize - sprang from a period when the great American author was experimenting with forms which would become standard in film. In this case it was the interior monologue that Hollywood would use as the voice-over.
For the discerning viewer, recognizing the importance of the play (that the Marx Brothers found it grist for their satirical mill in their contemporary Broadway and film musical ANIMAL CRACKERS is testimony to that importance) and the solid performances of the movie cast, O'Neill delivers. He is examining serious adult issues - not just the form he is experimenting with - as he dissects the obligations people have to those they love.
While O'Neill claimed his play was suggested by an ancient Greek play, this classic love triangle (quadrangle actually, even more when one factors in Nina's chillingly named son) rings remarkably true even with the demands of 1930's Hollywood censorship (Nina's psychologically important abortion is merely hinted at) and the heavy editing (that O'Neill somewhat disingenuously railed at) demanded to bring the film down to an acceptable playing length for the average movie theatre which played more than the theatrically standard 8 performance week.
If Norma Shearer's central Nina can occasionally be accused of overacting, the script demands it; hers is the central emotional roller-coaster. Second billed Clark Gable as Dr. Darrell, who does not arrive for nearly a quarter hour into the film, gives the most naturalistic performance (it was one of the ways he stood out in all his films - in style a generation ahead of his peers), but for the true film connoisseur, Alexander Kirkland's Evans and Ralph Morgan's Marsden are no less impressive, and Robert Young, seven films into a 40 year career is fine as Nina's college age son.
In the 1930's the causes of mental illness OTHER than "bad blood" (a plot driving device here, as in Katharine Hepburn's debut vehicle from the same year - also from Broadway - A BILL OF DIVORCEMENT) were far less understood than today, and the Catholic Church's ban on the rational use of contraception was far more pervasive - both of which may make the context of the film difficult for younger viewers to understand.
If they give the film their attention though, and recognize that the concerns of the characters go beyond these technicalities to the personal relationships that remain troublesome even today, the film - stylistic experiments and all - is ultimately not only important but deeply fulfilling.
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