Saturday, December 05, 2015

Tonight's Movie: What Every Woman Knows (1934) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

WHAT EVERY WOMAN KNOWS (1934) stars Helen Hayes in a film version of a play by J.M. Barrie. It was recently released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

Barrie's play originally starred Maude Adams in 1908, with Hayes appearing in a 1926 revival. According to IBDb, Hayes would play the lead role again in a short-lived 1954 revival, two decades after appearing in this film version. I'd be curious to know if her character remained the same age or if the script was adjusted.

The story concerns the Wylie father (David Torrence) and sons (Donald Crisp and Dudley Digges), who discover that young John Shand (Brian Aherne) has been sneaking into their home late at night to educate himself with their library.

Impressed by Shand's ambition, the Wylies overcome their initial anger and strike a deal with Shand; they will invest in his education for the next five years, in return for which at the end of that time Shand must marry the beloved spinster daughter of the family, Maggie (Hayes), if that's what she wants.

All parties agree, and in five years John is elected to Parliament and marries Maggie, who has made sure to educate herself in order to keep pace with John's studies. John never realizes that many of his best ideas come from Maggie, who is always quietly and tactfully supporting his ambitions behind the scenes.

John falls in love with glamorous Sybil (Madge Evans), so Maggie comes up with a plan to try to win John back. She throws John and Sybil together for a month at the country home of La Contessa de Brierre (Lucile Watson), and amazingly enough, John and Sybil start to become tired of one another...

Hayes is quietly likeable in the performance; her Maggie is almost unbelievably angelic at times, but then Hayes lets the audience see Maggie's hurt in the briefest pained expression or wobbly lip. Hayes may have been best known as a stage actress, but she was certainly capable of understated playing for benefit of the camera. She only made one more film in the '30s, VANESSA: HER LOVE STORY (1934), then she was off the screen until the early '50s, save for an appearance in the all-star WWII film STAGE DOOR CANTEEN (1943).

I've always enjoyed Aherne (A NIGHT TO REMEMBER), and he's fine in this part, although the character is both selfish and obtuse. His John initially clings to notions of being a gentleman of honor, which is why he follows through on marrying Maggie, but then he lets her down; in the end he has to learn for himself that straying from his marriage vows can come to no good end, especially as he already has the right woman in his life.

I'd describe this film as a solid effort by all involved; it's not particularly exciting filmmaking, but the fine cast makes it watchable. Speaking of the cast, Crisp and Watson are particularly fine; Henry Stephenson and Donald Meek are also in the film.

WHAT EVERY WOMAN KNOWS was directed by Gregory La Cava (MY MAN GODFREY). It was filmed in black and white by Charles Rosher.

WHAT EVERY WOMAN KNOWS runs 89 minutes. There was one noticeable scene where a line briefly ran down the middle of the picture, but for the most part it's a fine black and white print. The DVD includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


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