|Index||3 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Quite improbable stage-style drama about a very happily married couple
who separate over - well, the wife, a modern businesswoman who is still
using her maiden name even after marriage, just won't give up her
successful career as a theatrical agent to move to New Bedford with her
hubby who has a new $15,000 a year job designing yachts. Hubby David
(played by Robert Montgomery) is just SO tired of being a "kept man" by
his wife Lynn (Virginia Bruce), all he really wants is to take care of
*her* for a change (and her to take care of his house while he is off
at work). She won't budge - neither will he. So - two lawyers are
hired, David moves into the yacht club before getting his new digs in
New Bedford, and the separation begins. Well, well - this ultra quick
split seems all pretty absurd - it seems to me that such a happy couple
would, in reality, try to make a few more compromises before separating
so easily. We get a quick resolution to their problem in the end, which
comes about the old-fashioned way - a baby.
This film didn't really catch me, the plot being fairly unbelievable and a bit boring too. But I do like Robert Montgomery quite a lot - and he, as usual, is engaging in this role. Plus, there are some really good performances here by a few character actors which does help in pepping up the film just a bit - including Warren William, always enjoyable, as head of the theatrical agency, and Harry Davenport as daffy, aging old Uncle Dawson, stopping by to visit the "happy young couple" on his way for a trip around the world.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The First Hundred Years is part comedy, part drama. It is uneven, to say
the least. There seem to be 2 movies happening at once here, leading to a
serious lack of cohesion. Taken as it is, however, it's still not too bad,
as both the comedic and dramatic aspects have their merits.
The comedy is found only on the periphery of the central characters. Alan Dinehart gives a great comedic performance as family friend/lawyer Sam Walker, well-meaning but semi-inept. Dinehart is ever dependable, and is well cast here. Warren William, dashing as usual, plays Virginia Bruce's co-worker/partner-in-crime, Harry Borden. He's very good as the slimy though somewhat nervous theatrical agent, and also lends some levity to the film. There's a very funny drunk scene with William and Dinehart, celebrating the central couple's impending parenthood, whereupon they emerge from an elevator carrying baby toys, dolls, and a small umbrella. Stumbling to the doorbell, William rings it (with umbrella tip) with overly-cautious drunken precision. They look very pleased with themselves as they accost angry and depressed Bob Montgomery, to chat about his wife's pregnancy, whereupon Dinehart proclaims, `He's drunk,' as Bob (who was unaware of the baby) bolts past them for the door. There's also a lively turn from Lee Bowman as George, an aspiring writer who takes fondly to his American Indian roots insofar as to invite friends over to play his native drums whilst wearing a full Indian headdress. Binnie Barnes excels as an earnest pantschaser extraordinaire, and Harry Davenport, as drifty Uncle Dawson, complete the lighthearted aspect of the film.
If only writer Norman Krasna had made the central couple, Lynn and David Conway (Virginia Bruce and Bob Montgomery), a little more vulnerable throughout instead of leaving it to the ending, the dramatics would have fit in better with the rest of the film. As it is, it's played as though the audience is a voyeur into the couple's lives, complete with a very well done but surprising camera angle that while physically distancing the viewer from the couple, actually pulls back to reveal that so much is going on with them, it's hard not to care, even though you wish you didn't. This occurs in a cerebral scene in which the Conway living room (during a thunderstorm, symbolic of their stormy relationship), is inhabited by estranged relations playing nice-nice for the benefit of others, with maps of foreign countries and itineraries again symbolizing distance and estrangement --lying strewn all over the floor. The camera pans away and the very next scene (the best in the film) is especially touching, with Montgomery, holding tightly onto Bruce, ending up in tears, remorseful for the way things have turned out. This peace between them doesn't last long, however, and the couple almost immediately reverts back to their troubled ways. It seems that the crux of their relationship is their need to be petty, stubborn, jealous and judgmental. Their frequent scenes of bickering and outings at the organ playing old favorites reminiscent of happier times are depressing, too. Now wouldn't all of this have made a compact little drama all on its own?
(Spoiler) DATED!!!!: Not to give away any more of the plot, but the film, with its forward-thinking woman-wears-the-pants-in- the-family theme, is completely thrown out the window (resulting in Bruce's character losing all credibility), as she gets pregnant and gives up her money, career, happiness, social standing, etc. to live in New Bedford, NY (middle of nowhere) to be with hubby for his new job so he gets his way after all. The film was released in 1938, an obvious product of its times.
So we are left with this smarmy, antagonistic couple, still playing mind games with each other (each not telling they know of the pregnancy), driving off to New Bedford to most likely live miserably ever after.
An odd film, indeed but see it for the performances, all of which are uniformly excellent.
Just wanted to put a good word in for this movie, since the other
posters seem to have been taken in by its perfunctory happy ending.
What we have here is an unspectacular but fascinating curio, an
end-of-an-era film made by Richard Thorpe around the same time he made
Night Must Fall, which would be the culmination of Robert Montgomery's
progression from charming bounder to seedy, syphilitic cad ( Jude Law
is currently on the same path. ) This is where the elegant swells of
MGM's 1930's stable, sensing that youth has passed them by, begin to
show their true malevolent, selfish being -- and indeed, Montgomery
like James Stewart, the most ingratiating stars of their era, would
later become wizened arch-conservatives.
The First 100 Years would have had more weight if it had starred Joan Crawford instead of Virginia Bruce, but then again, Bruce brings a vulnerability to the role that makes up for her less than iconic stature. Bruce's character is a woman who is imprisoned in her time, and it's only a short step from the end of this film to La Notte or Diary of a Mad Housewife. Happy ending? Yeah, and Preminger's endings are giddy! Sad that the broad Jon Stewart kind of irony has replaced people's appreciation of a quieter, more insinuating kind that you'll find in Henry James and which movies necessarily thrive on, as directors and writers have to slip the truth through the back door. You have to pay more attention to the tonality of the thing, rather than the events depicted.
Richard Thorpe, a journeyman director who suddenly flared up in the late 1930's with a series of incredibly bleak and, yes, even Jamesian films -- such as Man-Proof and, though I haven't seen it, "Love is a Headache" must surely deal with the same themes -- before settling down once again into routine swashbucklers, provides many interesting touches, such as an organ installed in Montgomery's living room, replacing the usual cocktail-party piano with soupy dirges. Except for this organ, Thorpe constructs the whole movie almost entirely without music, and many scenes start with a bubbly chip-chip-cheeree kind of mood only to disintegrate into awkward neurosis and recrimination. He is obviously not working with material as strong as he had for Night Must Fall, but this is a must-see pendant for fans of that unsurpassed existential masterpiece.
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