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|37 reviews in total|
This film is painfully inept and should be avoided by all except lovers of camp. It's the oft-told story of the boyhood friends--where one goes straight and the other becomes a crook. For a vastly better version of the story, watch "Manhattan Melodrama." In "Never Love a Stranger," the dialogue is incredibly wooden and the plot contrivances both silly and obvious. Really, I don't know why I watched to the end except that I was hoping for a good courtroom scene, but none ever materialized.
"Easy Virtue" is an early and impressive Hitchcock in which the master
displays a range of innovative filmic devices (such as the way we learn
about a marriage proposal by watching the eavesdropping hotel switchboard
operator rather than by seeing the man or woman talking on the phone).
The story is based on a play by Noel Coward and (contrary to the other posted IMDB comment on the film) I believe the movie is excellent. The solo organ score on the videotape I watched was absolutely stunning.
The film tackles a range of issues relating to divorce that would become taboo after adoption of the Production Code in 1934. Our heroine Larita is married to a drunken brute. After he catches her almost (but not quite) being seduced by the artist who has been painting her picture, he brings suit for divorce. Adultery is the only ground for divorce in England at this time and we see a gripping trial scene in which the jury has to decide whether to believe Larita's denials. Of course, the jury can't see beyond its Victorian preconceptions (if she's alone with him all day, of course they've slept together) and it finds her guilty.
Now a disgraced woman of "easy virtue," Larita takes to the Riviera where she ensnares a rich young suitor (after he hits her in the eye with a tennis ball). Unfortunately, she doesn't tell him about her checkered past and naturally Larita's family hates her on sight.
This story takes on a range of highly relevant divorce issues. The film skillfully lampoons the absurdity of fault divorce and the need to try questions of adultery to a jury. It takes quite seriously the way that society treated a divorced woman as damaged goods. It attacks the sexual double standard with zeal and skewers the stuffy English aristocracy to great effect. After 1934, divorce didn't exist in the movies (except in comedies where the spouses remarry in the end) and the important legal and social issues raised by divorce and female sexuality were erased from the screen by the censors. Very few early films (silent or sound) ever dealt so candidly with the harsh realities of divorce; "Easy Virtue" compares favorably to the outstanding "One More River" (1934) in its straightforward and quite moving treatment of the issues.
"Reno" is a decent B movie about about the life and times of a Nevada
divorce lawyer. We first meet William Shear as the proprietor of a Reno
gambling casino. Strangely he is found to have a crooked roulette wheel.
At his preliminary hearing, we learn his story and ultimately determine
this previously honest and respected casino owner resorted to cheating.
Shear was a Reno lawyer who made a good living litigating mining claims. He turned to representing women who wanted quickie divorces after the miners left. Because the movie industry's production code prevented favorable treatment of divorce, the institution of Nevada divorces is very negatively portrayed. Shear's clients are all greedy, unhappy people and most of them try to seduce Shear even though he is married. The divorce practice and Reno lifestyle take a serious toll on Shear's marriage and his client solicitation tactics get him into deep trouble.
The picture is worth watching as an interesting treatment of the problems of divorce and mining law practice in Reno in the early part of the century. Shear's character is well developed and the competition between Shear and an established Reno attorney is also interesting. The plot contrivances, however, are very creaky and the female roles are shallow and unengaging.
Audiences will groan at the character of Mary Donnell. Bette Davis is
normally looking out for number one--and she's definitely her good old
in the first half of the movie. The widow of a gangster, Donnell has
a super-competent legal secretary for a respected attorney in a big firm.
She fends off unwanted press attention and generally handles herself quite
well as a tough single girl in the big city.
She becomes the mistress of her married boss at the law firm (although the Hays Office undoubtedly required the removal of any breath of sexual content here, it should be pretty obvious to all what is going on). In the second half of the movie, which focusses on Jack Merrick (Henry Fonda), whom Donnell has always loved, she achieves peaks of self-sacrifice that will send you staggering to the bathroom to throw up.
This is the sort of film that gives soap opera a bad name.
Lots of films and television shows explore divorce (and its prequels and
sequels) from the point of view of the adult participants but few explore
from the point of view of the kids. The normal speech that parents give to
their kids is that children are better off when their quarreling parents
split than when they caged together. Fourteen year old Chris Mills rejects
that idea. He's firmly convinced that his parents are wrong to get
divorced; with some work their marriage can be saved. And Chris and kid
sister Jenny will have an intact family. But nobody's listening.
So Chris takes an unusual tack--he gets his own lawyer to fight the divorce. Enter Archie Corelli, played by Alan Arkin (who also wrote the script). Archie's a lawyer who abandoned the law because he decided that our justice system hides rather than finds the truth. He's much happier running his car repair business. However, he agrees to represent Chris for a $10 fee. Chris' grandpa (the familiar Donald Moffat) agrees to be Chris' guardian ad litem in the suit and Chris files a motion to intervene in his parents' divorce case, arguing that he is a third party beneficiary of their marriage contract. Needless to say, both parents and their lawyers are outraged about his meddler into their private affairs.
Strangely, this little made-for-TV drama turns out to be quite touching. The two child actors are quite strong and Arkin is terrific. And the subject is a very serious one--half of all marriages end in divorce and a high percentage of children suffer at least one highly disruptive divorce. More often than not, the kids wind up in a household headed by their mother and suffer a radically decreased standard of living. Their relationship with the non-custodial parent is badly disrupted, perhaps destroyed. All kinds of psychological, social, and financial pathologies are likely to result.
And one last word in favor of Archie Corelli--an idealistic lawyer fed up with law practice who takes a case essentially pro bono because he likes the client and because he thinks that the legal system just might deliver a little bit of justice for once. We don't see too many lawyers like Archie in the films and television shows of today (and maybe not in real life either). Arkin deserves a lot of credit for creating the role.
J'Accuse surely ranks as one of the most stunningly effective anti-war
ever made. Its early scenes involve a group of French soldiers who are
compelled to go out on a hopeless and utterly pointless patrol. The men
instantly slaughtered by the Germans. The next morning, an armistice is
declared. The men on patrol were the last to die.
Think of the great anti-war films you've seen--like "Paths of Glory" or
Quiet on the Western Front." In my opinion, Abel Gance's "J'Accuse" ranks
with these masterpieces and, in its final scenes, even surpasses them.
Jean Diaz is the sole survivor of the doomed patrol. Before the men leave the trenches, Diaz swore to his colleagues that their sacrifice would not be in vain--there would be no more wars. Diaz devotes his life to achieving this goal for which he sacrifices everything. Of course, he fails miserably, as the European powers prepare for a new and even more catastrophic war. In the final scenes, Diaz plays his last and best card in scenes that will not be soon forgotten by those who are fortunate enough to see this great film.
"The Prodigal" appears to be assembled from leftover script ideas from
films. It opens with some pretty good scenes of the lives of tramps in the
early Depression years. Soon it focusses on Jeff Farraday, one of the
tramps who actually comes from a wealthy Southern plantation family. Jeff
has been exiled from the family, served time in jail, and is detested by
brother Rodman and sister Christine. The Farraday family seems to be
withstanding the Depression quite well. Jeff returns to the plantation
a couple of other bums, is welcomed by his adoring mother, scorned by his
siblings, and falls in love with the charming and perky Antonia, the wife
his brother Rodman. Rodman, of course, is a cruel, bullying stuffed shirt
who hates Antonia but won't give her a divorce.
The film veers from melodramatic family conflict to awkward love scenes to thoroughly unfunny comedy to incongruous musical numbers. Jeff is played by opera-singer Lawrence Tibbett who frequently breaks into song. Tibbett can really sing but he can't act, nor can any of the other characters in this mishmash. But then with lines like these, it would be impossible for any actor to seem anything other than ridiculous.
Not to be overlooked are the really horrible portrayals of the blacks on the plantation. Even for the time (when Aunt Jemima type characters are standard), these racist portrayals are extreme. One farmhand is a whining, sniveling wimp; other scenes involving the darkies' BBQ make a viewer want to crawl under the table.
From 1934 to 1968, the Hays Code and the Production Code Administration
imposed a rigid system of self-censorship on the movie industry. The Code
banned treatment of certain subjects, one of which was divorce. Thus for
the middle third of the century, American film basically ignored the
of divorce--while millions of people were getting divorced and the divorce
rate was rising steadily. Mostly the subject is treated in romantic
comedies such as "The Awful Truth" in which a couple gets divorced at the
beginning of the film and remarries at the end. The couples are usually
quite wealthy and they almost never have children. Obviously, this sort
movie divorce is nothing like the real thing.
"Child of Divorce" is one of the very few serious treatments of divorce during the Hays Code era. Because it treats the subject in a very negative light, it was not censored. The Herrick Library of the Motion Picture Academy in Beverly Hills preserves all the files of the Production Code Administration. The file on "Child of Divorce" indicates that the script was passed without any objections.
Bobbi is a sensitive and loving 8 year old girl, very devoted to her parents Ray and Joan. Ray is on the road a lot and Joan starts an affair with Michael. Bobbi and her friends spot Joan making out with Michael in the park. Soon the inevitable occurs and Ray and Joan split up. The divorce court must decide which spouse is the more guilty (this was necessary in the era of fault divorce when the spouses did not enter into a collusive agreement). Bobbi is required to testify that she saw her father strike her mother (of course, the mother struck the first blow). Since Joan obviously was committing adultery, which was always considered much more serious than mere spousal abuse, this hearing is a bit puzzling. But it is a miserable experience for all concerned and it is very tough on the kid.
The judge awards custody to Joan (evidently because Ray was the guilty party); Ray is allowed to have Bobbi during the summers. However, Bobbi is miserable. She can't stand Michael. And when she finally goes to see Ray, she finds out that he is involved with Lucille. The child collapses.
The solution, recommended by a kindly family doctor: boarding school. And there Bobbi learns to make the best of it. Here's where you'll go for your hankies.
Although the picture is mediocre in execution and the acting basically quite wooden (except for Sharyn Moffett who plays Bobbi), the picture is quite worthwhile and genuinely touching. It was far ahead of its time and stands out as one of the very few candid explorations of the realities of divorce that appeared during the Hays era. The couple gets divorced over Joan's love affair; quite realistic. They don't get back together. Both spouses remarry--and hopefully are happier with their new spouses than the old ones. Even more realistic. The legal aspects of the divorce are quite miserable. Still more realistic. And the divorce is devastating for the child--very realistic indeed. Divorce is almost always a traumatic event in the lives of children--and sometimes it's as catastrophic as it was for Bobbi in this film. Parents have extremely difficulty with both custodial and non-custodial arrangements and the kids detest their new step parents. Right on target. Not until the pictures of the late 1970's and early 1980's do we find comparable exploration of what divorce is really all about. Think of "Kramer vs. Kramer," "An Unmarried Woman," or "Shoot the Moon" as modern-day versions of the themes explored in "Child of Divorce" way back in 1946. Too bad the film is commercially unavailable and lacks even a Maltin summary in IMDB.
"Divorce" opens with a crawl condemning divorce as certain to produce
misery. It follows with a scene in family court in which a judge refuses
grant one divorce (thus forcing a couple who hate each other to stay
together). He reluctantly grants a second despite the obvious collusion
involved. The judge preaches against divorce as purely a product of
selfishness and bitterness. In the second case, the wife is the
Diane Carter who is a pure gold digger. She isn't present to hear the
judge's opinion of her character.
Diane then returns to her home town where she quickly establishes herself as a world class home wrecker. With little effort, she breaks up the happy marriage of Bob and Martha. Diane offers Bob unlimited investment money for his struggling business and a lot more excitement than Martha and their two loving kids. When she catches on, Martha insists on a divorce and rejects all support, taking a humble job in a department store to support herself and the children. The children suffer badly from their dad's absence. Meanwhile, Bob discovers that Diane is no bed of roses.
Viewers of this film must understand that divorce was one of those forbidden subjects under the Hays Code. Filmmakers simply were not allowed to make a serious, balanced film about divorce. The Hays Code was written by a priest and a prominent Catholic layman (Daniel Lord and Martin Quigley). From 1934 on, the Code was firmly administered by a prominent Catholic layman (Joseph I. Breen). One of the reasons the industry accepted self censorship was to ward off boycott threats from the Catholic church. So it is no surprise that the Hays Code firmly embodied Catholic moral teachings--especially including absolute opposition to divorce. Broadly speaking, the only kind of divorce movies that got made during this period were romantic comedies (like "The Awful Truth") in which couples get divorced early in the picture but remarry in the end.
"Divorce" is a serious movie on the subject of divorce that could easily have been produced by the Catholic church to impress teenagers or young married couples at weekend retreats. It puts divorce on the level of genocide in the moral firmament. Its preachiness is incredible and its dramatic value is nil. Needless to say, Breen approved of this film without any reservations. (The censorship files are preserved at the Motion Picture Academy's Herrick library in Beverly Hills).
In "The Unashamed" the Ogdens are a wealthy family that is very close and
loving. Jean falls in love with a crass fortune hunter named Harry Swift
who is obviously after her money. Her father and brother try everything to
dissuade her. To force the issue, Harry persuades Jean to spend the night
in a hotel with him (horrors!) When they fling this unheard of behavior in
the face of her father and brother, to induce them to consent to marriage,
things go badly. Jean's brother Dick shoots and kills Swift. However,
wants only to protect Jean's honor so he insists to his defense lawyer,
Trask, that Jean be kept out of it completely.
The latter half of the movie consists of Dick's trial, and Trask's problem in trying to save Dick from the electric chair while protecting his wishes not to tell the real story of what happened. Thus Trask is not allowed to use the "unwritten law" as a defense (that's the one that allows husbands to kills their wives and wives' lovers). In addition, Jean is extremely bitter toward her father and brother since they've ruined her happiness. So she's not about to cooperate in the defense. Until...
This picture is extremely melodramatic, in a style which seems rather alien to us today, and a lot of the acting and dialogue is too stagy for our taste. Nevertheless, for its time, it was quite well done. The issues of class, honor and gender that the film raises may seem quaint but there were very real to rich people of the 20's and 30's. Similarly, the courtroom scenes are quite well executed with a real attempt to observe appropriate legal proecdures. The ultimate twist ending is also quite effective and will remind you of a more recent (and classic) courtroom movie.
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