Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Private Lives (1931)

PRIVATE LIVES was my first purchase from the brand-new Warner Archive program.

The DVD arrived in a professional-looking "keep case" exactly a week after I ordered it. Physically, one couldn't tell this DVD case (pictured at the left) from a regular retail release by the studio. The DVD itself begins with an ad for upcoming Warner Archives releases -- including FOUR DAUGHTERS, which is great news -- and then there is a plain screen where you simply click "Play." This screen also explains how to fast-forward in 10-minute increments; there are no chapter selections. Although we've been told many Warner Archives films will have the trailer included if one is available, this DVD did not have a trailer.

The print and sound were excellent for the era. They weren't perfect, and there were a couple spots which were very briefly "glitchy" visually, but on the whole it was a great print for a 1931 film. Perhaps restoration might have sharpened up the image a bit, but I was pleased with the quality...and more than pleased to finally see this film!

PRIVATE LIVES is one of five pre-Code films costarring Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery. Three of the titles have been reviewed here previously: THEIR OWN DESIRE (1929), THE DIVORCEE (1930), and STRANGERS MAY KISS (1931). The fifth film, RIPTIDE (1934), airs in a Robert Montgomery birthday marathon this coming May 21, 2009.

PRIVATE LIVES finds Shearer and Montgomery starring in the film version of a Noel Coward play. Amanda (Shearer) and Elyot (Montgomery) loved each other madly but couldn't live with each other. As the film begins, Amanda and Elyot are each remarrying -- the new spouses are played by Reginald Denny and Una Merkel -- and shortly afterwards, they discover they are sharing adjoining honeymoon suites. The minute Amanda and Elyot see each other, they're goners for each other all over again, and we're off to the races!

The movie is lightning-paced, witty, and romantic. Shearer and Montgomery are each the height of sophisticated elegance and wit; Shearer dazzles in gowns by Adrian. My one quibble is that I wished at times for just a bit less fighting and a bit more romance, but other than that, it's quite perfect and the lead actors are delightful.

It should perhaps be noted that the film is politically incorrect by today's standards; near the end of the film, the two leads slug it out in a wild brawl. This is not unusual for a screwball comedy of its era -- think NOTHING SACRED (1937) -- but it's easy to imagine some modern viewers taking offense. I found it all in good fun and refused to take that aspect seriously. As an aside, according to the TCM website, Montgomery said Shearer possessed an excellent left and accidentally knocked him out cold!

The movie was directed by Sidney Franklin. It runs 84 minutes.

PRIVATE LIVES has also been released on VHS. It can be seen on television as part of the library at Turner Classic Movies.

A most enjoyable film.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Laura, for your review of this Warner Archives DVD release. I've been wondering how the DVDs would turn out--I have yet to place an order from the Archives, though I'm quite excited about what they have and will release under this new system. Imagine: I might be able to get hold of all the RKO, MGM and Warners films of Frances Dee. Golly! :)


12:44 AM  
Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

Thanks for this review. I'm looking forward to buying my copy. (just need to wait for my next paycheck...)

6:19 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Great news. I am eager to see Four Daughters become available!

9:30 AM  
Blogger Carrie said...

Sollochs! (I just like saying that...)

3:47 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

LOL, Carrie!

I hope all of you who haven't seen this will enjoy it too! Raquelle, I'll be looking for your review when you get it. :)

Carrie Liz, we'll have to be on the lookout for Frances's films. By coincidence I was just rereading the chapter on her in LADIES OF THE WESTERN earlier this week. :) She seems like such a neat lady. I've been meaning to give my tape of GYPSY COLT a look-see soon.

Grable, the Warner program should be a real boon for those of us who love the FOUR DAUGHTERS films. Hopefully they'll be out very soon -- or at least the first one -- since they advertised it on the DVD!

Best wishes,

6:26 PM  

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