Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Virtue (1932)

VIRTUE (1932), an entertaining film starring Carole Lombard and Pat O'Brien, has the kind of plot which defines "pre-Code."

Lombard plays Mae, a prostitute who's kicked out of town after being picked up by the police. Slipping back into the city, she has a "meet cute" with taxi driver Jimmy (O'Brien) -- she's penniless and stiffs him for the fare, but when she later pays him back they find themselves enjoying each other's company despite themselves.

Mae takes a job as a waitress, leaving her old life behind, and eventually she and Jimmy marry. On their wedding night Jimmy learns the truth about Mae's past from a cop, but they resolve to make a go of their marriage despite that. However, people from Mae's past make that a challenge, to say the least, involving her in a murder.

Lombard and O'Brien have terrific chemistry and are a very appealing team in this short 68-minute film, written by Robert Riskin, based on a story by Ethel Hill, and directed by Edward Buzzell. I especially liked a charming scene where Jimmy wolfs down endless stacks of his new wife's pancakes. They interact so well that it's rather a shame they didn't star in another film together.

The film has a gritty Depression-era atmosphere, and it was interesting looking around the screen at the costumes and set decor, gleaning bits of what life was like in 1932, at least as portrayed in the movies.

These positive aspects helped offset a problematic second half of the film, where I became impatient with the storyline. Mae secretly dips into her husband's savings for his planned business to provide what she thinks is a short-term loan to a so-called friend in dire need. Ha!

I was disappointed that after all they'd already been through, Mae hadn't learned enough to talk over the problem with Jimmy; instead the writers spiral Mae's life more and more out of control. The second half of the film wasn't nearly as interesting as the first, but since the movie only ran a little over an hour, it doesn't last long!

Ward Bond, who began in films in 1929, has a very nice, good-sized early role as O'Brien's best friend. It's interesting that despite having a featured supporting role here, after this film Bond would still spend years playing bit parts, often as cops or henchmen, not to mention the bus driver in IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934).

The cast also includes Mayo Methot, Shirley Grey, and Jack LaRue. The movie was filmed by Joseph Walker.

VIRTUE is available on DVD in the Columbia Pictures Pre-Code Collection from the TCM Vault Collection. It's a beautiful print.


Blogger Judy said...

I saw this film at the pre-Code season at the BFI in London last year and enjoyed it - must agree with you that Lombard and O'Brien have great chemistry, and also that the storyline becomes a bit annoying in the second half!

3:25 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I appreciate your feedback, Judy! Interesting that the film's pros and cons struck us similarly. I feel that I'm really just coming to appreciate Pat O'Brien in recent months.

How great to have see it on a big screen. I would dearly love to see some classic movies in London one day. :)

Best wishes,

5:26 PM  

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