Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Stronger Than Desire (1939)

In 1939 Walter Pidgeon and Virginia Bruce starred in a pair of "B plus" level remakes of two films which originally starred Myrna Loy.

The first Pidgeon-Bruce film, SOCIETY LAWYER, remade Loy's PENTHOUSE (1933), one of the films which catapulted Loy to the "A" level and her starring role in THE THIN MAN (1934).

The second film Pidgeon-Bruce film, STRONGER THAN DESIRE, remakes Loy's EVELYN PRENTICE (1934), which costarred William Powell.

There's a great deal of plot packed into this 78-minute film about Tyler Flagg, a successful, highly busy defense attorney (Pidgeon); his neglected wife Elizabeth (Bruce); the cad (Lee Bowman) who tries to blackmail Elizabeth over some letters; and said cad's long-suffering wife (Ann Dvorak), who is charged with his murder. Tyler takes on the woman's defense, not knowing his own wife is a key player in the case.

The courtroom scene at the climax of the film is riveting, with particularly fine acting by Walter Pidgeon; without any dialogue, we see the calm, highly competent attorney crushed by disbelief, shock, and fear. Bruce and Dvorak have excellent moments on the witness stand. The courtroom goings-on are highly irregular but dramatically mesmerizing.

It's a good movie, well acted by a deep cast which also includes Ilka Chase as Elizabeth's best friend, Rita Johnson as Tyler's annoying client, Richard Lane as Tyler's righthand man, and cute little Ann E. Todd as Tyler and Elizabeth's daughter. Other familiar faces in the cast include Ferike Boros, Reed Hadley, and Louis Jean Heydt.

I really enjoy Ilka Chase (NO TIME FOR LOVE), but I couldn't help thinking that for a loyal friend, she provided a lot of bad advice. First she encourages Elizabeth to be dissatisfied with her marriage, then she sets her up to spend time with lowlife Michael (Bowman) -- it would have been far better if she'd tried to help the busy but loving Flaggs spend more time together -- and finally she discourages Elizabeth from coming right out and telling her husband the whole story. This sophisticated-looking character was definitely not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but of course she is also the necessary catalyst for the progression of much of the story.

Ann E. Todd, who is quite cute as little Susan Flagg, was born in 1931 and began acting in 1938's ZAZA. She made 38 films, including classics such as INTERMEZZO (1939), DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (1939), ALL THIS, AND HEAVEN TO0 (1940), and HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1941). She played Tyrone Power's little sister in BRIGHAM YOUNG (1940), Linda Darnell as a child in BLOOD AND SAND (1941), Ann Sheridan as a child in KINGS ROW (1942), the daughter of Ann Doran and John Ridgely in PRIDE OF THE MARINES (1945), and Jeanne Crain's daughter in MARGIE (1946). She closed out her acting career appearing on THE STUART ERWIN SHOW in the early '50s. She married and became a music librarian at the University of California at Berkeley. According to IMDb, today she is a retired widow living in Northern California.

At the time this film was made, Ann Dvorak was married to the movie's director, Leslie Fenton. The movie was filmed in black and white by William Daniels.

STRONGER THAN DESIRE and SOCIETY LAWYER are available from the Warner Archive in a two-film set. I found both movies, which were recently shown on Turner Classic Movies in honor of Walter Pidgeon's birthday, quite enjoyable.

The trailer for STRONGER THAN DESIRE is available from the Turner Classic Movies website.


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