Saturday, January 03, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Strangers May Kiss (1931) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

The Forbidden Hollywood Collection: Volume 8 is the latest set of pre-Codes released by the Warner Archive.

Volume 8 contains four films on four separate discs: STRANGERS MAY KISS (1931), BLONDE CRAZY (1931), DARK HAZARD (1934), and HI, NELLIE! (1934). The initial copies of this set sold at the Warner Archive site are pressed discs. I'll be reviewing the other three films in this set in the future.

I first saw STRANGERS MAY KISS back in 2009. Since it stars two favorites, Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery, I very much enjoyed revisiting the film after over half a decade. Some aspects of the film's plot confounded me as much now as a few years ago, but Shearer and Montgomery are always good to watch, and it's a great exemplar of a pre-Code film.

STRANGERS MAY KISS was based on a book of the same name by Ursula Parrott. Norma Shearer plays Lisbeth, who has an inexplicable passion for Alan (Neil Hamilton), a total heel. Lisbeth's pal Steve (Robert Montgomery), meanwhile, would love to marry her and make her happy; his main drawback is that he's overly fond of the bottle, but he's an all-around good guy who's always there for Lisbeth when she needs him.

Lisbeth throws caution to the winds and agrees to accompany Alan on an extended trip to Mexico, sans marriage. Months later, after revealing he's married, the commitment-phobic Alan dumps her and leaves Mexico for Panama. The broken-hearted Lisbeth heads for the Continent, where she develops quite an, ahem, "reputation."

Alan eventually decides he loves Lisbeth and is ready to marry her, the wife apparently no longer being an issue. However, when he learns of Lisbeth's playgirl reputation, he dumps her all over again. Steve, meanwhile, continues to support Lisbeth, ever hopeful she'll one day be ready to marry him.

The most notable "pre-Code" aspect of the film is the affair and Lisbeth's subsequent reckless behavior, with euphemistic talk about Lisbeth having "shadows on the wall."

Other aspects of the film are of the time, but in a different way; it's apparently all right for the married Alan to have had an affair, yet the unmarried Lisbeth having "romances" after the breakup is considered beyond the pale -- and she eventually agrees with him! She tells him there had been no "shadows on the wall" when they met -- she'd been saving herself for the man she loved -- and that after he left her she should never have looked at another man.  It seems it's okay for men to play the field, but as Steve says, "We like our women straight."

The final scene has to be seen to be believed. Why such a glamorous woman as Lisbeth throws herself away on an idiot like Alan is inexplicable. If she didn't want the devoted Steve, surely she could have landed any number of men more worthy than Alan.

Irene Rich plays Lisbeth's aunt, who discovers she's been deluded about the state of her happy marriage. The cast also includes Marjorie Rambeau, Hale Hamilton, and Jed Prouty. Look for Ray Milland, Karen Morley, and Bess Flowers in bit roles. You can also spot Ward Bond in a coonskin coat; I submitted that to IMDb a few years ago but they never added him to the cast list.

STRANGERS MAY KISS runs 81 minutes and was written by John Meehan and directed by George Fitzmaurice. It was filmed by William H. Daniels. Shearer's gowns were designed by Adrian.

Particularly given the film's age, it looks great, save for a few speckles here and there toward the end of the film. Pre-Code fans should be quite pleased with this release of a very entertaining movie. There are no extras on this disc.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD collection. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website. Please note that the initial sets of this series sold at the Warner Archive site are traditionally replicated (pressed) rather than burned on demand.


Blogger Al Farlow said...

I realize that I'm rather late with this comment, but I just watched the film last night. Laura, you're missing an important point here - the romance in this film makes perfect sense!

Alan isn't a "love 'em and leave 'em jerk." He's a one-woman man. He is totally, 100% devoted to Lisbeth and her alone... when he's in New York. When he's in Paris he is 100% devoted to his wife. Likewise, in China he is 100% devoted to his Chinese "friend", the same with his girl in South America and so on. He is like a railroad engineer who has one family in Chicago and another in New Orleans. Whenever he has a layover he is a devoted family man - devoted to whichever family he happens to be with.

Alan is the same way - to him love is geographical.

The mistake Lisbeth made was in having so many men. If she had stuck to one man, in Paris or elsewhere, then she and Alan could be in love, 100% devoted to one another - they would just have to be in New York.

When you understand the geographical aspect of love, then the ending makes perfect sense also. Alan is no longer traveling, so of course he has to drop his other love interests and settle down with his one, true New York lover.

There are plenty of other aspects of this film that don't make any sense, I admit, but give me time. If I work at it long enough I can rationalize almost anything!

12:03 PM  

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