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  • This film has its weaknesses, starting with its silly title (the original title of the W. Somerset Maugham play it's based on, "The Circle," is better and should have been retained) and some of the ridiculous makeups the actors are forced to wear (Lewis Stone especially — it took me a while to discern his familiar features under all that greasepaint and hair cream), but all in all it's a good drawing room comedy/melodrama. Like Oscar Wilde and Noël Coward, Maugham was a (mostly) Gay writer whose sensibility came out (so to speak) in a jaundiced view of heterosexuality, and there are several unusual aspects to this plot — including the fascinating twist that 30 years after they did the dashingly romantic thing of running off together without first divorcing their spouses, Lord Porteous (Ernest Torrence) and Lady Champion-Cheney (Alison Skipworth) are as miserable as any married couple could possibly be after that length of time. I'd heard so many bad things about Catherine Dale Owen over the years that it was a surprise to see one of her films and actually find her quite good — energetic, high-spirited and fully in command of her role — and of course it's also always a treat to see Alison Skipworth, the one person who ever stole a scene from W. C. Fields and the principal villain (a sex-changed version of the Sydney Greenstreet role) in the otherwise pretty dismal second version of "The Maltese Falcon," called "Satan met a Lady." Her costume — representing an attempt to dress as a youthful coquette, defying her extra years and bulk — is itself a piece of minor film-making genius. David Burton's direction is mostly commonplace but has some inspired moments, notably the animation of the young Lady Champion-Cheney's photo in the album early on. And at only 56 minutes, the film lasts just as long as it needs to for the story it has to tell and isn't padded out to fill extra running time the way so many films are today.
  • I had never heard of Catherine Dale Owen before,which is hardly surprising given that she only appeared in about 6 films.However after this performance i do not think that i will ever forget her.She seems to enunciate every word to twice its natural length.I think that she must have gone to the vocal coach featured in "Singing In The Rain".There is one scene where she is seated having a discussion.Every time the other actor talks she looks away with a doleful stare.When it comes to her lines she turns and almost stares into the camera as if reading an idiot board.Then when she speaks her lines she seems to want to make a different hand gesture for every word.The tone of her voice hardly altering.So to Catherine i retrospectively award the Razzie for the worst actress of 1930.A well merited award!
  • boblipton15 November 2005
    This turgid screen version of Somerset Maugham's "The Circle" suffers not only from the dated story, but from performances by seasoned silent performers who seem absolutely overwhelmed by the sound equipment. The first scene suffers as the juveniles insist of making sure their emotions can be read in the second balcony. Even Lewis Stone seems ill at ease, until Ernest Torrence and Alison Skipworth come on.

    Torrence is a delight, complaining about his dentures, and Skipworth is wonderful. The camera is not quite immobile, but it does move leadenly -- quite appropriately in following Torrence, but it does move rapidly when needed to maintain composition -- something that modern film makers don't seem to think important But Lewis Stone's register runs all over the place, overacting in antique style even for 1930 with the youngsters, and fairly natural with Torrence and Skipworth. The total effect is bad.
  • "Strictly Unconventional" is a heavily abbreviated version of a W. Sommerset Maugham play. I say heavily abbreviated because the film was originally 72 minutes but after its debut, MGM hacked 17 minutes off the movie. This truncated version is the only one now available and because it was hacked to pieces, I much prefer the 1925 silent version.

    When the story begins, you see that Elizabeth is married to an incredibly dull man, Arnold. But she has a surprise for him...she's invited Arnold's mother and her husband to stay with them. This is a huge surprise because Arnold's mother left him and her husband many years ago....and they've had no interaction since! Now the wife didn't invite the mother just to help her husband patch things up with her....this wife is also contemplating leaving Arnold and thinks his mother's adultery is somehow romantic! TO make things worse, it turns out that it won't just be the four of them....Arnold's father just arrived! What's next? See the film.

    The problems with this film are all in the final act. The story seems abbreviated and loses its way...probably because of the excised footage. Because of that, much of the cleverness of the original film is missing and the story just okay and no better.
  • Well, it's a somerset maugham story, so we know its going to be a drama, with lots of pain for someone at some point. The story opens with Arnold Champion Cheney (Tyrell Davis) fawning over a chippendale chair he just received. We see signs of trouble, as his wife Elizabeth (Catherine Owen) complains that he likes his belongings more than he likes her. Then it is announced that Champion's mother (Alison Skipworth) is coming for an unexpected visit. LOVE Alison Skipworth, so fun to see her as Lady Champion, stirring things up. Elizabeth starts spending time alone with Ted the Canadian, so we can see there is trouble in paradise. At one point, we see Tyrell Davis with an "alfalfa" type hairdo... not sure what the point of that was ? The main story is about the friction between Elizabeth and Arnold, and with Arnold's parents as well. Lots of dinner party scenes, lots of talking, but you can tell we are missing some of the story, with 20 minutes cut from the film. No big deal really. Not Alison Skipworth's best work. This was her first talkie.... she was SO much better in her later films. See her in one of the W.C. Fields films instead. Lewis Stone (from Grand Hotel) is in here as well.

    Owen stopped acting in 1931, so she doesn't seem to have done well in the talkies. Directed by David Burton, who only directed about 15 films, mostly in the 1930s. He doesn't seem to have stuck around long. Screenplay by Sylvia Thalberg, the sister of big-time producer Irving Thalberg.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Static camera work makes this film version of an ancient Broadway play all the more theatrical and creaky. It's all about the society sexual goings on of a stuffy family where the stuffy Tyrell Davis is now married to the much younger Catherine Dale Owen whom he treats with kid gloves but more like a trophy hanging around his neck rather than a wife. A society party throws Davis's father (Lewis Stone) together with his dowager ex-wife (Alison Skipworth), the mother of his sons, and it is pretty obvious that the other son is more entranced with his sister-in-law than both sons are with the return of their real mother. Toss in another suitor (Paul Cavanaugh) for Ms. Owen and you have enough confusion for a dozen of these drawing room comedies.

    Everybody is directed to speak slowly and in "round tones" that you half expect one of them to start speaking limericks or rhythmic dialog to practice their early sound era diction. This aspect makes for an extremely slow moving version of the Somerset Maugham play "The Circle" where the men's helium filled voices sound surprisingly feminine and the women speak so slowly that they sound twice their age. At times, the film becomes extremely intolerable. Mary Forbes has one amusing scene as an imperious matron, and Skipworth tries her best to overcome the weaknesses of the script and the direction on how to speak that she was given. Her participation in this makes me believe that she might have been a last minute replacement for Marie Dressler who probably wisely turned it down. At less than an hour, this is still atrocious and probably best to just avoid.
  • JohnHowardReid3 August 2015
    Warning: Spoilers
    One would have thought that by the middle of 1930, audiences had become attuned to the novelty of sound and would no longer, thrill to such larger-than-life effects as the pounding of horses' hooves, the gurgling of a river, the slamming of doors, the crash of foot- steps, the revving up of a motor car and the closing of the lid of a jewel box. Alas, the cumbersome sound-proof booth with its diffused lighting is still much in evidence in the interior scenes here (contrasting vividly with the sharp exteriors); plus that odd, early sound technique of characters constantly walking out of the frame to be picked up in a two-shot. Of course a lot of this weird happenstance could be sheeted home to forgetful photographers who had still not fully registered the fact that a large chunk of the picture frame had disappeared in order to accommodate the sound track. And evidently the booths were none too sound-proof on this one, as the microphone often picks up a lot of camera buzz and whirr.

    Even worse, however, is the acting. Tyrell Davis is the most atrocious of over-ripe hams (though he does improve later, particularly at the climax). Catherine Dale Owen is only slightly less plummy, whilst Paul Cavanagh is a wet hero, and Lewis Stone a boring father. Most people will walk out of the film before Ernest Torrence and Alison Skipworth come on. They are not much less hammy than the others, but at least they have presence as well as all the best lines.

    Director David Burton is a slave to the microphone and his film is little more than a photographed stage play.