9 March 2006 | Delly
As the Germans would say, "the fat years are over."
Just wanted to put a good word in for this movie, since the other posters seem to have been taken in by its perfunctory happy ending. What we have here is an unspectacular but fascinating curio, an end-of-an-era film made by Richard Thorpe around the same time he made Night Must Fall, which would be the culmination of Robert Montgomery's progression from charming bounder to seedy, syphilitic cad ( Jude Law is currently on the same path. ) This is where the elegant swells of MGM's 1930's stable, sensing that youth has passed them by, begin to show their true malevolent, selfish being -- and indeed, Montgomery like James Stewart, the most ingratiating stars of their era, would later become wizened arch-conservatives.
The First 100 Years would have had more weight if it had starred Joan Crawford instead of Virginia Bruce, but then again, Bruce brings a vulnerability to the role that makes up for her less than iconic stature. Bruce's character is a woman who is imprisoned in her time, and it's only a short step from the end of this film to La Notte or Diary of a Mad Housewife. Happy ending? Yeah, and Preminger's endings are giddy! Sad that the broad Jon Stewart kind of irony has replaced people's appreciation of a quieter, more insinuating kind that you'll find in Henry James and which movies necessarily thrive on, as directors and writers have to slip the truth through the back door. You have to pay more attention to the tonality of the thing, rather than the events depicted.
Richard Thorpe, a journeyman director who suddenly flared up in the late 1930's with a series of incredibly bleak and, yes, even Jamesian films -- such as Man-Proof and, though I haven't seen it, "Love is a Headache" must surely deal with the same themes -- before settling down once again into routine swashbucklers, provides many interesting touches, such as an organ installed in Montgomery's living room, replacing the usual cocktail-party piano with soupy dirges. Except for this organ, Thorpe constructs the whole movie almost entirely without music, and many scenes start with a bubbly chip-chip-cheeree kind of mood only to disintegrate into awkward neurosis and recrimination. He is obviously not working with material as strong as he had for Night Must Fall, but this is a must-see pendant for fans of that unsurpassed existential masterpiece.