Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Strangers May Kiss (1931)

Lisbeth (Norma Shearer) has man troubles. Her devoted friend Steve (Robert Montgomery) would like to marry her, but Lisbeth is hung up on hypocritical cad Alan (Neil Hamilton), who has no interest in marriage. Lisbeth throws herself away on Alan and then becomes a party girl on the Continent, proving to one and all that STRANGERS MAY KISS.

STRANGERS MAY KISS is a very interesting and entertaining -- but confounding -- pre-Code movie. It's hard to understand Lisbeth being willing to waste her life mooning after Alan, a love 'em and leave 'em jerk with mind-boggling double standards. Steve, on the other hand, while overly fond of the bottle, is dedicated to Lisbeth's happiness. If Lisbeth can't find love with Steve, one wonders why a beautiful woman like Lisbeth is so willing to settle for Alan, out of all the other men in the world. But, of course, there would have been no movie without Lisbeth's perplexing love for that heel Alan.

Shearer is very good as Lisbeth. There are a couple moments where she verges into overemoting, silent movie style, but on the whole it's an excellent performance. At times her character is reminiscent of her Oscar-winning role in THE DIVORCEE, released the previous year.

Montgomery is often the most interesting thing in any movie, and that's no exception here. He's a charmer, and I love watching his subtle reactions and body language, such as in the mind-blowing final scene.

Shearer and Montgomery were an excellent movie team. In addition to THE DIVORCEE, they costarred in THEIR OWN DESIRE (a 1929 film I particularly liked), PRIVATE LIVES (1931), and RIPTIDE (1934). STRANGERS MAY KISS, THE DIVORCEE, THEIR OWN DESIRE, and RIPTIDE will air on Turner Classic Movies on Robert Montgomery's birthday this May 21st, 2009. (That same day, don't miss my favorite Montgomery film, HIDE-OUT, costarring Maureen O'Sullivan.) Now if only I could see PRIVATE LIVES...

I confess to finding it a bit hard taking Neil Hamilton seriously, because every single time he opened his mouth, all I could hear was "Commissioner Gordon." This was compounded by the fact that his character was such an unbelievably selfish idiot. (No strong feelings here...!)

I especially enjoyed seeing a younger Irene Rich as Shearer's aunt. I liked Rich very much in two '40s John Wayne movies, ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (1947) and FORT APACHE (1948). In the former, she plays Gail Russell's Quaker mother, and in the latter film she is the wife of Ward Bond and the mother of John Agar.

Speaking of Ward Bond, although he's not listed at IMDb, Bond is clearly visible in the nightclub scene early in STRANGERS MAY KISS -- he's one of the men in coonskin coats who starts dancing with the showgirls. (I submitted this cast addition to IMDb.)

Marjorie Rambeau plays Lisbeth's friend, and Ray Milland and Karen Morley can be found deep in the supporting cast. I very much enjoyed the chance to see Montgomery and Milland -- two of my favorite actors -- sharing a scene together.

The film was directed by George Fitzmaurice. The cinematography was by four-time Academy Award nominee William Daniels, who won the Oscar for THE NAKED CITY (1948). Shearer's beautiful gowns were designed by Adrian; I also loved her pin with the character's initials, "LC." The movie runs 81 minutes.

STRANGERS MAY KISS has not had a video or DVD release. I suspect there are many classic film fans who would love a Shearer-Montgomery boxed set, but with classic DVD releases apparently slowing down this year, we may have a long wait.

November 2014 Update: STRANGERS MAY KISS is coming to DVD from the Warner Archive as part of the Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Vol. 8.

January 2015 Update: I've reviewed the new Warner Archive release of this film.


Blogger Barb the Evil Genius said...

Norma Shearer was a beautiful actress.

9:11 AM  
Blogger Carrie said...

Oohh, I didn't know about the borthday mini-marathon. I feel a cold *cough* coming on :0)

2:54 PM  

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