Monday, March 11, 2013


Lady Clair Corven has returned to England via ocean liner from Ceylon to escape her abusive husband—among other things, he beat her with his riding crop—and on the ship, she spent quite a lot of time with Tony, a young admirer. He's clearly in love with her, but she insists the friendship remain platonic. Clair's family, including her kid sister Dinny and influential uncle Sir Mont, accepts her with open arms and she starts a new life, getting a job as secretary to a local politician. But when Lord Corven returns, he wants her back; he promises that his sadistic behavior will end, but we can tell by looking at him that it's in his nature. She refuses him and continues to be squired about by Tony. Soon, Lord Corven hires a private eye to follow Clair and Tony and, when one night the two spend the night together in a broken-down car, he feels he has the evidence to begin divorce proceedings against her. Unsavory details come out that tarnish her reputation—did she, in fact, "reestablish the marital relationship" with Lord Corven one night when he visited her apartment? Could young healthy Tony really have controlled himself that night in the car? Will Clair free herself from her husband's clutches, and if so, can she find happiness with Tony (or does she even want to)?

James Whale directed this adaptation of a novel by John Galsworthy, and it is largely his sprightly stylistic touch that makes this more than just a turgid romantic melodrama. Diana Wynward, whose specialty was upper-crust sufferers, is OK as Lady Corven but sometimes is so veddy placid and stiff-upper-lip that it's difficult to feel much for her. The rest of the cast is solid: Colin Clive is exactly right at the villainous Lord Corven, the boyish Frank Lawton (pictured with Wynward) is equally as right as Tony, Jane Wyatt is a breath of spring as the sister, and Mrs. Patrick Campbell, the legendary stage actress who only made five films, is great fun as Lady Mont, who says what she likes (picture Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey); my favorite line is hers as she heads up the stairs to bed one night with a pain in her stomach—she announces loudly, "I don’t know if it's flatulence or the hand of God." Also with great character actors C. Aubrey Smith, Reginald Denny, and Henry Stephenson. The courtroom scene at the end is well played (Lionel Atwill is especially fine as the prosecutor), though the aftermath leading to a relatively happy ending is rushed.  [TCM]

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