Friday, September 27, 2013


In Paris, kept woman Constance Bennett leaves her older lover (Lew Cody) and sets out to make her own way in the world. Meanwhile, struggling artist Joel McCrea, though set up in a rather nice studio apartment, is being pressured by his rich family through his sister (Hedda Hopper) to give up his pipe dreams and come back to America. Bennett comes to McCrea for a job as a model and he hires her; she's a bit skittish at first when she realizes she's expected to pose in the nude, but her inhibitions quickly drop away with her clothes. When another artist (Paul Ellis) gets interested in Bennett and accuses McCrea of "keeping" her, McCrea gets furious and a fistfight is narrowly avoided. That night, McCrea and Bennett become lovers and all seems well for a time, but when he asks her to marry him and then finds out he is not her first lover, he gets furious again. They soon agree to just live together (hence, the "common law" of the title) but when Cody re-enters her life, tensions flare yet again, aided by Hopper, who thinks she can pry McCrea away from Paris. Can only marriage truly keep them together?

Well, yes, that seems to be the message here, but even though that's a very moral message, this pre-Code film could not have been released under the Production Code because even though marriage is in the offing at the end, no one is punished for their fast and loose ways. Plus, there's a bit of nudity—when Bennett poses, she is seen from afar with a sheet still covering some of her, but later at an Artists Ball, there is brief full nudity in a tableaux performance. While McCrea (pictured) and Bennett do wind up conforming by getting married, the choice not to marry is not presented as an evil or decadent one, just one that society wasn't quite ready to accept. McCrea is quite natural, but Bennett and Hopper are rather artificial and stagy—though both got better later in their careers. The supporting cast is not especially notable, although I liked Robert Williams as Sam, an drunkard friend of McCrea's. [TCM]

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