27 March 2011 | AlsExGal
An odd marriage of religion and the social register...
... is on display in this film as a kind of moral code, and it might seem strange to many modern audiences to see such a thing - it did to me. It's one thing to read about it in history books, it's another to see it demonstrated theatrically. I'll get back to that later.
Robert Rossitor (Walter Huston) is a socially prominent guy and a well respected attorney with a lush of a pal who is always advising him against brunettes, and if it's 1929 and it's Paramount that drunken pal must be Charlie Ruggles, here playing Charlie Taylor. Rossitor is a widower and father to two children. At a local department store Rossitor is at the awkward task of buying a birthday present for his daughter. He is helped by sales clerk Joyce Roamer (Claudette Colbert) who helps give his gift the feminine touch Rossitor lacks. The two instantly click and the film fast forwards to two years later. Rossitor and Joyce have been enjoying a two year affair, but the topic of marriage is seldom brushed up against. It appears that Rossitor is paying for Joyce's apartment, because her digs are far too elegant to be paid for by a sales girl's salary. Charlie Taylor has set up part-time housekeeping next door as well, with blonde Hilda, whom he met in a bar and who basically set up the ground rules of their sugar-daddy relationship at their first meeting in a priceless precode discussion. Even though Joyce and Hilda look at their men quite differently, they have become best friends.
The trouble begins when Rossitor's children come home from boarding school and his New England relatives - the Tuttles - visit for dinner. This is where we get into this weird religion of the social register. Patriarch Henry Tuttle has the tone of a thundering preacher, but his words are along the lines of - we know about your girlfriend, our family tree is that of a giant elm, her's is a common shrub, stay in your own forest, your happiness doesn't count. Rossitor tells uncle Henry off in private, then Henry has the nerve to wait until Rossitor leaves the house and poisons the children's' minds against Joyce sight unseen with his very unsocial gospel.
When confronted with the fact that his children now know about Joyce and that they are dead set against any continuing relationship - even though they are all of twelve - Robert is now a double-minded man. He admits Joyce is a fine person, that she has shown him the only true happiness he's had since his wife died, yet he is a man beset with doubt as to whether or not he should break it off with Joyce and marry a woman he barely likes for the sake of appearances. How does this work out? Watch and find out. The performances here are quite natural for an early talkie, which is true for most Paramount talking films of that early sound era save the very first few that they made.
As for the weird attitude toward working people as though they are trash by Robert's New England relatives, this attitude is called Calvinism and the popular thought among the well-to-do of New England at this time was that if God liked you he showed His good pleasure by making you and your family rich, if He didn't you were poor. And if God didn't like you, why should the rich cut you any slack? How quickly the problems with this philosophy showed themselves after the Great Depression made so many rich people poor just a year or so after this film was made.