Friday, June 27, 2014


Judy (Gloria Swanson), an American in London visiting Lord Portleigh, an old family friend, falls for the handsome Nick (Lawrence Olivier); he throws over Stephanie for Judy and they agree to marry. That night, the cook sees her husband, the butler, kissing the maid and stabs her (superficially, as it turns out). This makes Judy afraid of jealousy in marriage, and she insists that she and Nick sign this pledge: "Never be husband and wife, but lover and mistress; above everything else, to remain individual." They marry and have a wonderful honeymoon period traveling all over Europe, but eventually Nick agrees to join friends George and Kitty (and, unknown to him, Stephanie) at Cannes while Judy goes to London to prepare their home. Nick enters a contest in which the men get drunk and race speedboats and in the process is injured. He recuperates at Stephanie's place and winds up engaging in a night of ill-considered passion with her. When he sees Judy he confesses and despite their pledge, she's consumed with jealousy. She goes to commiserate with old friend Ivan (John Halliday), a famous explorer who has been nursing an affection for her for some time. He's leaving on a trip the next day and asks her to join him. She has a long dark night of the soul, walking the streets of London thinking things over, and decides not go, but the note she writes Ivan in appreciation of the evening is found by Nick and misinterpreted; when she denies an affair, he slaps her and leaves. Soon Judy is pregnant, but as she and Nick are on the verge of reconciling, he suddenly suspects that the child might be Ivan's and leaves again. Of course, as this a comedy, things eventually get worked—in the divorce court.

This is one of several movies from the pre-Code days that took as a subject the search for a better kind of marriage, one that wouldn’t degrade either partner and would allow a certain amount of freedom in matters of work and play. Of course, the real subject is, a better kind of marriage is poppycock and traditional marriage still works best. The plot is predictable and the dialogue no better than it needs to be, but the movie is worth seeing for its two stars. Silent star Swanson (pictured with Olivier) only made a handful of talkies after this one, but she's fine here, as is Olivier who wasn't terribly self-important yet. He's quite handsome and a little bit scrawny as we see in the Cannes beach scenes. Halliday adopts a thick accent and it seems to hamper his acting a bit. Swanson's real-life husband Michael Farmer plays George, and despite the overwhelming critical consensus that he can't act, I thought he was OK. Nora Swinburne is Stephanie and Nigel Playfair has some fun as Lord Portleigh. The director, Cyril Gardner, gives the movie some nice stylistic touches—long tracking shots, montages, interesting shots—but the background music is almost never-ending and occasionally got on my nerves. Future director Michael Powell wrote the screenplay. [TCM]

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