MY REPUTATION is a superb romantic melodrama starring Barbara Stanwyck and George Brent. It makes perfect seasonal viewing, as the last third of the film is set between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day.
I briefly reviewed this film nearly five years ago, but it's worth a fresh look. I think I enjoyed it even more on this second viewing than I did when I first saw it.
Stanwyck and Brent are perfectly cast in this story of Jessica, a young widow from the Chicago suburbs who falls for Scott, a dashing but commitment-shy army major. Their romance, coming just months after the death of Jessica's husband, causes gossip in her tony social set which hurts her sons (Scott Beckett and Bobby Cooper). Of course, the gossip is more than hypocritical, as one of the married men (Jerome Cowan) in Jessica's social circle propositioned her for an affair mere weeks after her husband's death.
The film chronicles Jessica, in many ways, becoming an adult in charge of her own life. Having fallen in love with her husband when she was just 17, she has been either married or under the sway of her extremely controlling mother (an obnoxiously perfect Lucile Watson) for her entire life. Jessica learns to take risks and make her own decisions, as well as evaluate the relationships which really matter in her life.
One of the film's best sequences is the section of the film when Jessica accompanies her best friends, Cary and Ginna (the always-welcome John Ridgely and Eve Arden), to Lake Tahoe. (Wrightwood, in Southern California, stands in for Tahoe.) Jessica meets the major while skiing, and they enjoy a couple of evenings together. Stanwyck has never looked lovelier than in these scenes; freed of her mother's control, her hair is symbolically down for the first time in the film, cascading in curls. Jessica is drawn to Scott, as he is to her, yet she pushes him away when he becomes romantic.
This push-pull continues when they're reunited in Chicago; Jessica is attracted to Scott and flattered by his attention, but she skitters away when he gets too close, then makes sure she sees him again. Stanwyck is pitch perfect in these scenes, as she is in the entire film, experiencing the thrill of new attraction but fearing Scott may be interested in too much, too soon.
This was one of the first roles where I really came to appreciate the underrated George Brent. He's also perfectly cast as the mature man who clearly sees Jessica's situation and is charmed by her, problems and all. There's just a tiny bit of a heel in his ladies' man of the early scenes, but just as Scott enjoys watching Jessica grow and change, he's evolving himself, enjoying a deeper relationship with a woman and growing to realize that maybe commitment is a good thing after all.
Stanwyck and Brent had costarred in SO BIG! (1932), THE PURCHASE PRICE (1932), and BABY FACE (1933) over a decade previous to this film's release, then also worked together in THE GAY SISTERS (1942). This 94-minute film was completed in 1942, but like several other Warner Bros. films of the period, the release was held back until the end of the war.
Warner Anderson (seen at the right) plays the lawyer who's a longtime family friend interested in marrying Jessica. Leona Maricle plays a gossipy friend, while Esther Dale is the loyal housekeeper. Ann Todd and Janis Wilson are friends of Jessica's sons.
MY REPUTATION was directed by Curtis Bernhardt. Bernhardt's other films included CONFLICT (1945), HIGH WALL (1947), THE DOCTOR AND THE GIRL (1949), and PAYMENT ON DEMAND (1951).
The screenplay by Catherine Turney was based on a novel by Clare Jaynes titled INSTRUCT MY SORROWS.
James Wong Howe was the cinematographer; the film has a score by Max Steiner and Stanwyck's gowns are by Leah Rhodes.
MY REPUTATION was released on DVD in 2007 as part of the six-film Barbara Stanwyck Signature Collection. Extras include the trailer and two different radio adaptations; Stanwyck and Brent reprise their roles in a 1947 Lux Radio Theater broadcast, while Alexis Smith and Wayne Morris play the parts in a 1946 production.
This film can also be seen from time to time on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is here.