Saturday, May 29, 2010

Tonight's Movie: The Shining Hour (1938)

THE SHINING HOUR is an engrossing MGM melodrama with an outstanding cast, marred only by a rather improbable ending.

Olivia Riley (Joan Crawford) is a glamorous New York City nightclub dancer who has come a long way from her hardscrabble childhood, when she was known as Maggie. A prosperous gentleman farmer from Wisconsin, Henry Linden (Melvyn Douglas), proposes to Olivia and she agrees to marry him, although she's not in love; she is fond of Henry and he represents everything she hopes for, including marriage, a home, and security.

Some of Henry's relatives are none too enthused by the marriage. Henry's older sister Hannah (Fay Bainter) hates Maggie before she ever meets her, and his brother David (Robert Young) is upset that Henry has marred the family's good name by marrying a -- gasp! -- dancer from the big city. Only David's wife Judy (Margaret Sullavan) is kind to the Olivia when she and Henry arrive at the family's Wisconsin homestead. As time goes on, Hannah becomes ever more spiteful towards Olivia, but David's feelings move in the other direction and he falls in love with Olivia himself.

Joan Crawford gives a very attractive, appealing performance as Olivia, who truly wants her marriage to Henry to succeed. Douglas and Sullavan are also very likeable as the two Lindens who are loving and kind. Sullavan's self-sacrificing love borders on the deranged, however, and is one of the things which makes the film's ending a bit hard to believe.

Bainter and Young play a pair of siblings who are pretty much rats. Hannah's nastiness and cruelty are hard to understand, although there are hints that perhaps she is jealous of her brothers loving other women. It's the only explanation which seems to make sense, as even her concerns for the good name of the Lindens can't excuse her behavior in the face of Olivia being such a likeable woman. Only in a '30s movie could Bainter's Hannah end up pouring coffee to the family rather than being hauled off to jail -- or a psychiatric ward -- at the end of the film!

Young's David is a selfish brat who wants everything his own way and especially wants what he can't have. Young convincingly plays this unlikeable fellow, who seems to gain some self-awareness and maturity by story's end.

Hattie McDanield has a nice role as Belvedere, Olivia's maid. Allyn Joslyn rather wasted in a small role as one of Olivia's New York friends. The cast also includes Frank Albertson, George Chandler, Frank Puglia, and Bess Flowers. Charles Coleman appears as -- what else? -- a butler.

Near the film's opening Crawford performs a very nice ballroom dance in a nightclub; she is partnered by Tony DeMarco, who also choreographed.

The film was directed by Frank Borzage, who also co-produced with Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Borzage directed Margaret Sullavan in several films, including the 1938 classic THREE COMRADES, which costarred Robert Young, along with Robert Taylor and Franchot Tone. I'm looking forward to seeing another of the Borzage-Sullavan collaborations, LITTLE MAN, WHAT NOW? (1934), in the near future.

The production values of this 76-minute film are first class all the way, including cinematography by George Folsey, a musical score by Franz Waxman, and costumes by Adrian.

The screenplay by Ogden Nash and Jane Murfin is based on a 1934 play by Keith Winter; the Broadway cast included Raymond Massey and Gladys Cooper. For the most part the film's dialogue is sharp and interesting, although at times it's a bit self-consciously wordy.

THE SHINING HOUR has been released in DVD-R format by the Warner Archive.

It has also been released on VHS and is in the library of Turner Classic Movies, which showed the film as recently as last week. The trailer is here.


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