10 September 2011 | pitcairn89
A pretty good Pre-Code film
I recently had the opportunity to see this obscure, forgotten film, and I think it is a pretty good Pre-Code drama of marital infidelity. According to IMDb.com, it is taken from a play by Ernest Pascal, who also had a hand in the film, I believe. I find the film to be very believable about the complications and complex emotions involved in romance with married people. I've seen dozens of these early-30s marital dramas, and some of them are very well done, others unbelievable and over the top. But this one seems genuine to me, all the characters acting in ways that real people probably would under similar circumstances.
The star, Clive Brook, gives a genuine performance as the husband who can't make up his mind, between his wife (Vivienne Osborne) and girlfriend (Juliette Compton). He is the least- likable character in the movie, as he dithers around, and tortures everyone around him. But that is often the way people really act, in his situation. His wife and girlfriend are much more likable, and you find yourself sympathizing, and kind of rooting, for both of them. The actresses involved give very good performances. I haven't seen Vivienne Osborne in that many movies, but I remember her mostly as shrill, hysterical characters, such as her murderess in "Supernatural," with Carole Lombard. She is nothing like that here, and in fact, is the kind of wife and mother men would dream about. She is warm and sincere, and refuses to do what she knows is wrong, just because others urge her to do it. Juliette Compton is also very good. She makes the "other woman" character quite human, and she is very sympathetic in her desires and feelings. She really loves the Brook character, and isn't out for his money, or other stereotypical things. Really, all three people involved in this triangle come across as being human, and what they do is just what people really do. They don't act in the turgid, overly-dramatic fashion that so many early-Talkie characters do. They make you think of people you really know, who have been in similar situations.
I have always had mixed feelings about Clive Brook, as an actor. I've read that he was a great guy, and very well liked, in real life. But on screen, in the early '30s, he often came across as stiff and overly mannered. His face is a frozen mask in so many of these films. In "Shanghai Express," for example, you wonder why Marlene Dietrich is so crazy about him. He was a good actor, and it may have just been his manner, or an older acting style, but you often want to shake him, just to get a reaction. He seemed to relax, and lighten up, as the years went by, and when he pops up in later films, you are always glad to see him.
This film, like most others of that era, is chock full of good character actors. Charlie Ruggles, Charles Winninger, Elizabeth Patterson, Berton Churchill (here billed as Burton), and, in small roles, Harold Minjir and Noel Francis. The IMDb. cast list has 'Noel Madison' listed, not the beautiful Ms. Francis. I don't know if this is a mistake, or if he is in here somewhere, too. She isn't listed, but she is in there, in the party scenes. She was a gorgeous lady, who often played the "bad" other woman, and she had a distinctive look about her. Noel Madison often played toughs, and was an effective nasty. He shows up in "Little Caesar," as Pepe, and in "G- Men," and a Charlie Chan or two. He made a believable gangster. Harold Minjir played Franklin Pangborn types- the fussy secretary, hotel staff, etc. He was James Cagney's tailor, in a memorable scene in "The Public Enemy." Berton Churchill showed up in a zillion John Ford movies- notably "Stagecoach," as the larcenous banker. He often played such cowardly, blustering characters. Elizabeth Patterson is one of my favorites- the mother here. Charlie Ruggles is very good here, as the wisecracking brother-in-law, and he gets off some good zingers. The in-laws depicted in the film remind me of those you see in W.C. Fields movies- the cranky mother-in-law, etc. Though Fields made them funnier.
One thing that jumps out at you about this film is the sexual frankness involved. This is a Pre-Code movie, so that's not totally unexpected. But they say the word 'sex' a number of times directly, as in "I wonder what he sees in her?" "Sex" being the answer, etc. At one point, the girlfriend tells the wife that she is carrying her husband's baby, and the wife accuses her of using sex to control her husband. They are very honest and direct about it, just as people would be in real life. And possibly even more honest than some people would have been in 1931. It does make you jump, though. 80 years divide this film from this review, and so much wrangling has gone on in those years about censorship, that you kind of forget how honest movies could be at that time. Imagine them trying to film those scenes after 1934.
Anyway, I decided to put a review on here, as there aren't any others for this film. I'd never heard of it before, but I'm glad I saw it. The frankness I've mentioned has made it somewhat memorable for me. If you get a chance to see it-- probably not too likely-- you should take a look at it. Universal really should start putting these things out, either in another Pre-Code package, or as DVD-R discs, as Warners does. There are some gems out there, waiting to be re-discovered. And considering that Universal controls the 700 or so Paramount films, from 1929 to 1949, as well as their own films, they would have lots to choose from.