Monday, July 20, 2009

3 x Shearer and Montgomery

It was Friday 17th of July, 2009.

Lolita was very eager to get a hold of some friend to take a cup of coffee with her. Seven bitter phone calls later, she had to give up and realize that she obviously didn't have enough friends - they either had other plans or were ill. How incredibly selfish of them. (Lolita really should get a job.)

She did however always find a solution for a problem like that. Rather than getting out in the real life and doing something important, she could always hang out with her friends from the silver screen.
So she sat down and watched three films in a row. And they had something important in common - they were all pre-code Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery vehicles. Great ones, too.

And to leave that silly third person story telling, I must say - Shearer and Montgomery might be among the most lovable on-screen couples in motion picture history. They sparkle.

So, here's a little summary of of the films I watched that awful day when I didn't have any friends to play with me.

Director: E. Mason Hopper
USA 1929
65 min

Lally (Shearer) is a wealthy girl, living a happy life playing polo and joking around with her father Henry (Lewis Stone). But the idyllic life is soon smashed to pieces when Lally's father after 23 years of marriage divorces her mother Harriet (Belle Bennett) to start a-new with a younger woman, Beth Cheever (Helene Millard), who also leaves her current husband.

Harriet is devastated, and Mandy turns against her father and his new woman. Bitter on all men on Earth, she and her mother go on a vacation. There she, of course, meets a charming young man; Jack (Montgomery), and falls in love. Things get more complicated when Lally realizes that the man she is wooing is none other than the son of Mrs. Cheever.

Their Own Desire is surprisingly fluent in its story-telling, considering that it is a pretty early talkie, and that those often tend to be a bit clumsy. The first scene with Shearer and Montgomery is fantastic - he sees her at a swimming pool, about to dive in. When she does, he goes after her (clothes on and all), and surprises her with a kiss in an under-water shot. Really beautiful. And, as would for any real woman, it works.

USA 1931
81 min

Our leading lady Norma Shearer plays Lisbeth Corbin - a modern woman who doesn't feel the necessity to get married to her lover, Alan (Neil Hamilton). Or is it just he who doesn't want to get married? At least that's what Lisbeth's friend and family thinks (among them Irene Rich and Marjorie Rambeau) and warn her about.

Despite having the wonderfully charming Steve (Montgomery) volunteering to marry her, Lisbeth decides to follow her love interest to Mexico. While there, Alan confesses that he actually has a wife in Paris, making Lisbeth realize that she probably doesn't mean more to him than being another mistress. Heartbroken she decides to go to Europe and exploring the loose single life that all men obviously know about - being single or not.

Steve catches up with a Lisbeth surrounded by Spanish admirers. He quickly learns that Lisbeth hasn't wasted any time at her travels.

Steve: Ooh, what I heard about you in Paris, ooh...
Lisbeth: And of course, like a true knight, you refused to believe it.
Steve: Well, the first six or seven hundred times I did.

Lisbeth clearly enjoys the fruits of life ("I'm in an orgy, wallowing. And I love it!"), but as soon as she receives a telegram from her dear Alan - telling her that he's getting a divorce and wants to marry her - she lets go of everything and travels to Paris to meet him. Unfortunately, her reputation gets to Alan first, and he isn't that interested in having her for a wife anymore. For the second time in a row, she fails in getting the man she wants.

"Now, let dear Steve comfort you!", the naïve public hopefully thinks. Oh no - he's a gentleman. He leans back as problems get solved between his love interest and Alan-the-pig. There's always a champagne bottle to keep him company.

There were more sexual tension between Shearer and Montgomery in The Divorcee (review here), in their of-three-silent-clips-consisting-scene they shared in that one, than in this entire film. It feels like they should have switched Hamilton's and Montgomery's parts.

But it's a great film, and Shearer is that typical pre-code woman she always should have been able to play all through her career.

Director: Sidney Franklin
USA 1931
84 min

My favourite of this bunch. It starts off with cutting between two weddings - Elyot (Montgomery) being married to Sibyl (Una Merkel), and Victor (Reginald Denny) to Mandy (Shearer). We see the couples happily going away on their honeymoons, and soon we understand that Elyot and Mandy have been married to each other, due to their new inquisitive partners.

And it isn't finished there - the two newlywed couples happen to spend their honeymoons at the same hotel - door to door! It is of course only a matter of time before Mandy and Elyot bump into each other.

This is an insane comedy/drama, based on a play by Noël Coward. The snappy, insinuating dialogue and the blabbering of the characters who constantly interrupt each other remind me of the screwball comedies of the 1940's. I can however never decide whether Una Merkel's character is cute and neurotic or just insanely annoying. But the fighting scene with Shearer and Montgomery is hilarious - and I read at IMDb that Montgomery (unintentionally) was knocked unconcious while filming that scene! No wonder - it looks really hectic and temperamental to me.

In short - Private Lives is a wonderful and entertaining movie with Shearer and Montgomery at their absolute best. If you haven't seen it yet - DO IT.

Shearer and Montgomery in Their Own Desire.

Shearer and Montgomery in Strangers May Kiss.

Shearer and Montgomery in Private Lives.


Kate Gabrielle said...

yes!! Private Lives is one of my favorites, the dialogue is too perfect for words-- and delivered by these two it's even better.

Norma: "What would one do without one's morning coffee, I often ask myself"

Robert: "And how do you reply to yourself?"

Love that!!
ps. I often have the same problems discussed in your third person story ;)

Dsata said...

Great post, with nice not much known pictures of Norma.

Lolita said...

Kate Gabrielle:
Montgomery is a riot in that film!
Haha, I bet we have the same way of fixing that problem too, huh?

Thank you!