Friday, August 13, 2010

Tonight's Movie: But the Flesh is Weak (1932)

Florian and Max Clement, played by Sir C. Aubrey Smith and Robert Montgomery, are a father and son looking for wealthy women to keep them in the style to which they'd like to remain accustomed. Max falls in love with a poor widow, Rosine (Nora Gregor), and pledges to go to work for her, but due to his father's financial crisis, Max ultimately decides he must marry rich Lady Joan (Heather Thatcher) instead. Joan is a wonderful woman who clearly loves Max, BUT THE FLESH IS WEAK and Max can't forget Rosine...

This is a mildly entertaining film with a screenplay by writer-actor Ivor Novello, based on his own play. Montgomery and Smith are both charming, as always, although Max's courtship of Rosine is so persistent that it briefly borders on being creepy.

I didn't particularly care for Austrian actress Nora Gregor as the widow Montgomery falls for; her foreign accent is difficult to understand at times. She was three years older than Montgomery but looks at least a decade his senior, and their pairing simply didn't strike me as believable. I can't say I'm surprised Gregor's U.S. film career didn't take off.

My ambivalence about Gregor's Rosine made me feel all the more for the sympathetic Lady Joan, who clearly adores Max; Joan is very well played by Heather Thatcher. It's an excellent part which Dame Judith Anderson also portrayed memorably in the remake FREE AND EASY (1941).

FREE AND EASY (1941) starred Robert Cummings and Ruth Hussey; it was reviewed here last April. (Rather confusingly, FREE AND EASY also happens to be the name of an unrelated Robert Montgomery film released in 1930.) The tamer remake omits some of the risque pre-Code dialogue and incidents of the original.

All in all, I think the story works better in the briskly paced 56-minute remake, including playing down some of Max's stalker-like moments, plus Ruth Hussey is a much more appealing heroine. My preference for the Cummings version came as something of a surprise to me given how much I enjoy Montgomery and his films. It's interesting to note that Leonard Maltin had a similar reaction, giving BUT THE FLESH IS WEAK two stars while awarding the remake a three-star rating.

Sir C. Aubrey Smith and Forrester Harvey appeared in both film versions; Smith switched from playing Max's father to playing the father of Lady Joan the second time around. Harvey played the impatient landlord both times.

A fun bit of trivia is that Harvey appeared in another Montgomery film, THE MAN IN POSSESSION (1931), and repeated his role in the remake of that film as well (PERSONAL PROPERTY, released in 1937). Harvey notably played Old Fezziwig in the MGM A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1938).

Film buffs should look closely when Lady Joan introduces Max to a group of friends at a party -- a very young Ray Milland is among the group.

FREE AND EASY was directed by Jack Conway. It runs 77 minutes.

This movie isn't out on DVD or video, but it can be seen on Turner Classic Movies.

2012 Update: This film is now available on DVD-R in the Warner Archive's Robert Montgomery Collection.


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