RIPTIDE is the fifth and final pre-Code teaming of Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery. Shearer and Montgomery had previously starred in THEIR OWN DESIRE (1929), THE DIVORCEE (1930), STRANGERS MAY KISS (1931), and PRIVATE LIVES (1931); my favorite of the five films is the lushly romantic THEIR OWN DESIRE. Shearer and Montgomery's characters don't always end up with one another in their films, but they possessed an undeniable screen chemistry; I only wish they'd appeared in even more films together.
This time around Shearer plays Mary, who weds Lord Philip Rexford (Herbert Marshall) after a whirlwind courtship. Mary honestly lets Philip know of her party girl past, when she "didn't stop at a kiss," but Philip assures her it doesn't matter.
Five years pass; Lord and Lady Rexford have become the parents of a little girl and seem happily married, but when Mary is photographed in a compromising situation with Tommie (Robert Montgomery), an old friend, Philip thinks the worst because of Mary's past. Mary is innocent, but Philip leaves her, so she has a fling with Tommie for real. Then Philip wants Mary back...
Since the movie was released in the last months of the pre-Code era, the subject matter is quite frank for its day. As is probably apparent from the plot description, RIPTIDE is a fairly soapy marital melodrama, but it's interesting thanks to the three lead actors and a script which has some good lines. My favorite, when Tommie is mourning Mary turning down his pass: "She's got 'conscience' written all over her face. At this moment, she is cooling off - like some beautiful volcano that has decided not to wipe out a lot of Italian villages." Montgomery's line delivery is priceless.
In the pre-Code era Montgomery seemed to be stuck fairly often with playing characters who are overly fond of alcohol but could be cured by the love of a good woman; it's to his great credit that he makes these characters charming despite being saddled with playing drunk or tipsy in so many scenes.
Shearer can be the tiniest bit over the top dramatically at times, but I really like her, and the emotions fit her character. She looks grand in a wardrobe by Adrian. Although her first appearance, dressed as a bug for a costume party, has to be seen to be believed!
Marshall likewise doesn't escape the bug costume, which is in hilarious contrast to his proper onscreen persona. He's a bit of a drip in this one -- by design, I suspect -- but he nonetheless has some beautiful moments, such as his wordless, thunderstruck reaction to seeing Mary for the first time without her bug costume.
The supporting cast includes Ralph Forbes, Lilyan Tashman, Helen Jerome Eddy, and Mrs. Patrick Campbell.
Look for Walter Brennan in a bit part as a chauffeur, and a young Bruce Bennett in an even smaller part standing at a bar in Cannes; watch carefully, Bennett is on the left side of the screen.
RIPTIDE runs 92 minutes. It was written and directed by Edmund Goulding. IMDb also says that Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur worked on the script without credit.
RIPTIDE is available on VHS. It can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available here.