Friday, September 25, 2009

Tonight's Movie: The Unguarded Hour (1936)

THE UNGUARDED HOUR reunites Loretta Young and Franchot Tone, costars of the pre-Code classic MIDNIGHT MARY (1933).

This time around, Tone plays Sir Alan Dearden, a prominent British barrister on the path to becoming the youngest attorney general in England's history. Loretta Young plays his adoring wife, Helen.

When Helen agrees to pay a blackmailer (Henry Daniell) in possession of letters which could damage Alan's career, Helen inadvertently becomes a key witness in an unrelated murder case, which (of course) is being prosecuted by her husband. If Helen comes forward to clear an innocent man, she will expose the very letters she sought to suppress. The plot grows ever more complicated, twisting and turning until eventually Sir Alan himself will end up as a murder suspect.

This is an interesting story, although it becomes quite convoluted and ends in a rather hurried finish. The film is entertaining thanks to its excellent cast. Tone, Young, and Lewis Stone, who plays General Lawrence of Scotland Yard, all skip using British accents, but thanks to '30s "movie star magic," it doesn't matter a whole lot. The actors are charismatic and enjoyable to watch, the story is absorbing, and that's really all that matters.

Roland Young, who does have a British accent, just about steals the movie as Tone and Young's close friend and confidant. There are many other great faces in the cast, including Jessie Ralph, E.E. Clive, Robert Greig (as, what else, a butler), and Dudley Digges.

I recently acquired a December 1944 Lux Radio Theater production of THE UNGUARDED HOUR; it's always interesting to see who appeared in a film's condensed radio version on Lux. Roland Young repeated his role, 8 years after appearing in the film version, with Robert Montgomery and Laraine Day in the leads. Montgomery's appearance in the show is interesting as he had no films released between mid-1941 and December 1945 due to his wartime service in the U.S. Navy.

THE UNGUARDED HOUR was directed by Sam Wood. It was shot in black and white and runs 87 minutes.

THE UNGUARDED HOUR is not available on VHS or DVD, but it can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. The print which has been shown on TCM was excellent.

A trailer can be seen here. The trailer advertises Loretta Young as being "back on the screen" a matter of fact, this was Young's first film after secretly giving birth to her daughter, Judy, who was fathered by Clark Gable during the filming of CALL OF THE WILD (1935). Loretta claimed "exhaustion" and illness and spent her pregnancy hiding in Europe and later Venice, California. You can read more about that in a 2007 review of Gable and Young's KEY TO THE CITY (1950).

Update: THE UNGUARDED HOUR is now available on DVD from the Warner Archive.


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