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Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Preston Sturges worked on the screenplay, but don't expect 'The Lady Eve'
Sight unseen this movie has a number of factors in its favor: 1) it stars two of the most charismatic performers of Hollywood's Golden Age, James Stewart & Margaret Sullavan, paired for the first time; 2) it features the underrated Ray Milland as Jimmy's best friend, who becomes the third player in their romantic triangle; 3) several of Hollywood's familiar character actors appear in supporting roles (Grant Mitchell, Hattie McDaniel, Christian Rub, etc.), and 4) its story was born in the typewriter of the legendary Preston Sturges, one of the all-time great screenwriters. According to various biographies of Sturges he spent a couple of weeks on the first draft of this drama while simultaneously cranking out a comedy for Carole Lombard called Love Before Breakfast. Sturges' script for Next Time We Love was then handed off to an obscure writer named Melville Baker who revised it, but in the end only Baker received screen credit. It would appear that this project meant little to Sturges, but, bearing in mind the memorable results when Margaret Sullavan took the title role of his brilliant adaptation of The Good Fairy in 1935, I sat down to watch this one hoping it might also be something special.
Unfortunately, and despite a decent opening half-hour or so, this film ultimately disappoints. Stewart and Sullavan have good chemistry and make a believable couple. We follow the course of their relationship with interest as they marry on impulse and Stewart aggressively pursues a career in journalism while Sullavan takes a more casual interest in stage acting, while best friend Milland maintains a steady presence in the background. Stewart & Sullavan have a baby, but trouble soon develops: her career in the theater suddenly takes off just as his progress at the newspaper hits a brick wall. Tension mounts as she becomes the breadwinner after he screws up a major assignment and is fired. They separate, and Sullavan flourishes while Stewart avoids coming home and stays out of the picture. Milland, at this point, finally steps forward and makes his feelings known.
More plot twists come along, but for me the movie starts to fizzle along about the time Sullavan's acting career takes off. Important events occur too abruptly, without the appropriate build-up: all of a sudden, she's a famous and powerful Broadway star. It looks as if some backstage scenes were filmed but then cut, suggested by the fact that Grant Mitchell, who plays a theatrical producer, receives fourth billing in the credits though he appears in only one brief scene. From that point onward Sullavan's stardom seems unreal while the behavior of Stewart's character becomes increasingly melodramatic and unbelievable. In the later scenes none of the main characters behave like recognizable human beings, and despite the best efforts of these estimable actors we no longer buy anything they're saying or doing by the climax. The story raises a provocative issue, i.e. the conflict that results when a wife earns more money than her husband and thus wields more power, but the filmmakers chickened out without really addressing the matter, choosing a sappy "Hollywood" resolution over anything genuinely satisfying.
Next Time We Love is fairly interesting nonetheless, worth seeing if you enjoy Hollywood melodramas of the '30s and certainly if you're a fan of the stars, but in the end it doesn't amount to much. Fans of Preston Sturges will be hard pressed to recognize his contribution, and may prefer to skip this one and enjoy one of his more characteristic works instead.
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