1 January 2003 | bensonj
Exceptional Ending, and a Subtle Performance from 12trees
Caution: ending of film is discussed.
From the moment of Eric Linden's first appearance, overwritten and overacted beyond any hope of later improvement, one wants to stop watching this one, because it's obvious that it's going to be tough going. And it IS a hard film to watch, because the Linden character is such an insufferable blowhard, and you know from the beginning that he's going to just treat her bad, treat her bad, through the whole film. Yes, this is yet another pre-Code story about a beautiful, intelligent woman, played by a attractive, talented actress, who marries an cocky jerk, played by a not-very-attractive, not-very-talented leading man. And Linden's performance is so embarrassingly deficient, with no nuance whatsoever.
The film is worth sticking out, though, because, although the Linden character is crudely written and played, overall it's an interesting film. Blanche Frederici plays 12trees' mentor with subtlety; neither an old crab nor warm and nurturing, a good person with a pragmatic sense of propriety. Cliff Edwards is fine as usual, fun and friendly, but playing a character who is ultimately not very nice, and as an actor up to dealing with that possibility. The script even tries to give the Linden character a good point: on their honeymoon he claims to know a Wall Street big shot, and we're surprised to find that the man does know him and does have some respect for him, if not for his deals. The film has a relatively fluid and pictorial style. The atmosphere at the dance hall is realistic and sleazily stylish. The popular jazz is funky, and the band looks suitably competent and slightly tacky.
Some of the more conscious efforts at cinema style, such as the lights being turned off at the library at closing time, seemingly turning off the lives of the young protagonists, may seem a bit self-conscious today, but they still work well. I particularly liked the closing lines of this scene, with 12trees railing against teaching children fairy tales. After the scene fades, you barely hear her voice continuing in a whisper, `It's wicked, wicked.'
What really makes the film is its unique point of view about depression romance and marriage, and Ms. 12trees' restrained but masterful performance. Neither of these are fully evident until the final scene when everything comes together and the whole film is brought into focus with an unusual clarity.
The film is about a quiet, intelligent woman, a librarian with a natural inner maturity. But because of her inexperience and her fairy-tale concept of romance, she gets her trapped in a marriage to a total washout who's all talk and no substance, and a cheat to boot. Before the honeymoon's over, she's completely aware that she's been had. But she sticks it out as long as she can, until she finally tells him off, spelling his faults out very clearly, with contempt rather than anger dominating her outburst.
Similar films of the period had endings in which the husband never had a comeuppance and in which the wife had to pretend a subservient role. In WEEKEND MARRIAGE, Loretta Young had to lie about her success and ask forgiveness, though it was her husband who was the drunk and the failure. Constance Cummings had to do the same in THE BIG TIMER. Ms. 12trees herself, in NOW I'LL TELL, had to pretend to return to her cheating husband, though at least that was only to ease his dying moments. Occasionally, such as 12trees in MY WOMAN, the wife got to throw off the conceited blowhard and find happiness elsewhere.
But the ending of YOUNG BRIDE is quite different. In the end, Linden sees the error of his behavior and has to beg forgiveness and clearly acknowledge his faults. But what's even more fundamentally different from the other films, almost radical, really, is the spirit in which she accepts him back.
After he pours his heart out on his knees as she sits on the day couch, he finally says, `Everything's all right now, isn't it?' and she answers, without much conviction, `I guess so.' The scene's well written, with him saying all the right things, and she giving quiet, rueful answers about reality versus expectations. He buries his face on her shoulder and the camera comes in on her face. She looks down on him with a touch of affection, and then gives a sad little smile and a sort of a shrug, and the scene fades into the end title. According to convention, everything has worked out for the best, yet as played and written it's the most realistic and sad of endings. Yes, she's taking him back, because she remembers how she first loved him, because she's going to have a baby and she needs a husband in the middle of the depression, because he's so sincere at this point. Yes, maybe things will be better... maybe. But, still, she knows she's just an innocent girl who's married a bum; even if he stays on the straight and narrow, he isn't at all what she hoped for. Her performance in this final scene is so simple, so good, so unaffected. My verbalized interpretation of her little smile is far less sophisticated than the actual performance, which is more subtle, more enigmatic. It conveys feelings that can't be put into words (and perhaps I shouldn't have tried).
This final shot illuminates what the whole film has been working toward. It's a heartbreaking message for a depression audience that came to see true love vindicated. Though the general quality of the production, with some original moments and well drawn characters, is good enough to keep one with it, this is really one of those films where the end justifies its existence.