Divorced couple unexpectedly meet each other during their honeymoon and rekindle their love.Divorced couple unexpectedly meet each other during their honeymoon and rekindle their love.Divorced couple unexpectedly meet each other during their honeymoon and rekindle their love.
In the "Pre-Code" era censorship was not a significant issue, and the story follows the original stage play to the letter. After divorcing each other, Elyot and Amanda find themselves honeymooning with new spouses in adjoining hotel suites--and suddenly dessert their new spouses to resume their torrid love. Unfortunately, they both remain as eccentrically combative as ever, and it isn't long before the fur begins to fly.
The great failure of the film, however, is in the dialogue. As noted, censorship was not really an issue--but MGM advisers felt the script was too British for the American market and fiddled with the lines to make them "less English" in tone. But where a Noel Coward play is concerned, it isn't so much what you say as exactly how you say it, and in altering bits of wording the screenwriters significantly blunted the razor-like quality that made the original such a great success.
Even so, the 1931 film version of PRIVATE LIVES does a credible job of capturing the Noel Coward theatrical fire in a bottle, and the thing that makes the film work is Norma Shearer. One of the few silent stars to make a full transition to sound stardom, Shearer was among the most critically acclaimed and popular stars of her era. Although most widely acclaimed as a dramatic actress, modern viewers usually find her dramatic performances highly mannered--but what now seems mannered in drama works very, very well in comedy, and PRIVATE LIVES may be her single most accessible film for modern audiences. She is excellent throughout.
The remaining cast is a mixed bag. Robert Montgomery has the look but is essentially miscast as Elyot; still, he acquits himself well by avoiding the obvious missteps, and when he and Shearer click the whole thing goes off with a bang. Reginald Denny is quite expert as the stuffy Victor, and while Una Merkle seems as miscast as Robert Young she too renders a solid performance. Like most MGM films of the 1930s, the production values are top of the line from start to finish, slick, glossy, and attractive, and director Sidney Franklin (noted for his skill with actresses) keeps the film moving at a smart pace.
PRIVATE LIVES has had numerous revivals on stage with stars that range from Tallulah Bankhead to a memorable teaming of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and it remains a staple of world theatre; perhaps in the future there will be yet another film version that bests this one. But even so, this 1931 film will more than do until that wished-for-one comes along. Presently available to the home market via VHS only. Recommended.
Gary F. Taylor, GFT, Amazon Reviewer
- Mar 29, 2005