Thursday, May 21, 2009

Illicit (1931)

Director: Archie Mayo
USA 1931
79 min

See the film on YouTube here. (There seems to be a little gap between the first and the second clip, but nothing disturbing.)

In this pre-code production Anne Vincent (Barbara Stanwyck), a modern woman, and Richard "Dick" Ives II (James Rennie), a member of a rich and respected family, is a happy young couple with only one problem: Dick wants to get married, but Anne doesn't. Her view of the holy sacrament is that people always seem to either unhappily married or unhappily divorced.
Anne is strong in her opinions and even challenges Dick's father Richard Ives I (Claude Gillingwater), but is after much ado about it convinced to become Mrs. Anne Ives.

Before the marriage Anne receives a telegram from an ex-lover, now friend, Price Baines (Ricardo Cortez), that he wants to see her. Dick tries to forbid Anne to receive him (an early sign of the destructive results of becoming a man's possession?), but being an independent woman she does exactly as she pleases. Price, of course, tries to convince her to stick to her principles.

See the brilliant acting and the perfected dialogue in the following clip. Do you feel the tension between the soon-to-be husband and the ex-lover? Gives me the creeps.

What you see in the clip above is also the beginning of another marriage problem - a woman friend, Margie (Natalie Moorhead), who keeps her eyes (and arms) open for Dick. Is she a threat? Is she more of a threat to a married couple who starts to get too casual with each other, than to a pre-marriage couple consisting of two independent people?
In other words, this drama between two people develops into a triangle drama, shifting into a different triangle drama - but in the most modern and untheatrical way.

The characters in this film are very well cast (see the wonderfully modern Joan Blondell as "Duckie") into the smallest bit parts, though I personally didn't care too much about Rennie as Dick (even though there's nothing wrong with his performance, what I can see). But maybe his part isn't very well written, neither. He whines about getting married, and when he finally gets what he wants he neglects his wife - making the viewer hope that she runs away with the latino lover instead (and I guess that was not what was intended).
But about Stanwyck, to quote Addison DeWitt from All About Eve (1950), you can really see her career rise in the East like the sun.

The female characters, l-r: Margie, Anne and Duckie.

Illicit seems like it wasn't given the credit that it deserved, it's a truly brilliant film. The characters are very down to earth, especially Stanwyck's. Her way of delivering the most heart breaking feelings by simply walking through a room, and barely move a facial muscle, is astonishing. The drama is professionally dimmed, a lot of the emotions are expressed by seemingly every-day talk.
And, the best of all (a thing I was quite worried about, but fortunately didn't come true) - the moral of the story does not seem to be "marriage solves all problems". Actually, the moral of the story didn't seem to have anything about marriage at all. As Stanwyck's last line indicates:

"What have theories to do with love?"


Richard 'Dick' Ives II: Dad, what would you do with a girl like that?
Richard Ives Sr: I'd grab her any way she'd have me.

Anne Vincent Ives: Why Georgie, you look a little emaciated!
George Evans: Well, I was just emaciated into the Elks Saturday night.


Kate Gabrielle said...

I love this film, I think it's one of Barbara Stanwyck's best. I think I might watch it again tonight after reading your post-- I'm on a bit of a Ricardo Cortez kick now anyway :)

Lolita said...

Kate Gabrielle:
Sounds awesome! Cortez was really great in this film - so suave, sophisticated and yet threatening...

Matthew Coniam said...

Have you seen Ex-Lady: a virtual remake with Bette Davis in her peroxide blonde days? Even better, I think.

Lolita said...

Matthew Coniam:
No, I haven't! Thanks for the tip, I'll keep an eye open for that version.

Classic Maiden said...

Great film, great script and just a really great cast (Stanwyck, Blondell, Moorhead and Cortez. What more can you ask for?). However, I agree - James Rennie is a boring leading man.

and if I may add - truly wonderful to see a post on my favorite actress, miss Stanwyck :)

Have a great weekend!

best wishes,

Lolita said...

Classic Maiden:
I plan to see more of her and write about it, hope will like it!
Have a swell weekend!