Thursday, August 09, 2007

ILLICIT (1931)

Interesting pre-Code film which is surprisingly casual in its portrayal of a premarital affair. Barbara Stanwyck and James Rennie maintain separate residences but spend their nights together--the opening scene has them post-coitally lolling about in their "night clothes." He wants to get married but she thinks that marriage will inevitably lead to the death of their relationship, that love can't stand the strain of enforced possessiveness and the expectation to have children. When they are caught "weekending" together at a hotel, his father (Claude Gillingwater) pressures them to marry. "She has theories, Dad," replies Rennie, but she does finally agree. A year later, the strains have begun showing when Rennie wants to party but Stanwyck wants to cuddle up at home. Naturally, two old flames show up: Ricardo Cortez, who tried to stop the marriage earlier by telling Stanwyck that she was just becoming a piece of property, and Natalie Moorhead, whom Rennie starts seeing when he tells Stanwyck he's working late. The married couple separate, then find that their spark of passion returns, but both Cortez and Moorhead keep trying to split them up. Of course, social convention wins in the end and they give their marriage another chance, with Stanwyck saying, "What have theories to do with love?" Stanwyck is a bit out of her element playing a rich girl, but she's fine; Rennie is lackluster but passable. Cortez, a favorite of mine who had a nice range, from romantic lead to dastardly villain, is quite good here in one of his typical roles as the handsome second fiddle who never winds up with the girl. Supporting comic relief standouts are Charles Butterworth as an older playboy friend of the couple's and Joan Blondell as his younger mistress. [TCM]

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