Sunday, May 08, 2016

Tonight's Movie: The First Hundred Years (1938) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Is marriage or career more important? That's the question asked in THE FIRST HUNDRED YEARS (1938), recently released by the Warner Archive.

Robert Montgomery and Virginia Bruce, who costarred that same year in YELLOW JACK (1938), play David and Lynn Conway.

David, a yacht designer, has finally landed his dream job, and he's thrilled that Lynn's work as a theatrical agent will no longer be their biggest source of financial support.

The job requires that the Conways relocate from New York to Massachusetts, which David assumes Lynn will be willing to do. He's shocked to discover she has no interest in moving at all, and when it comes right down to it she will choose her career over their marriage. This prompts David to consult with a divorce lawyer, and a long dance begins in which the couple must decide their future.

Some refer to THE FIRST HUNDRED YEARS as a comedy, but while it has its light moments, in the end it's more of a marital melodrama than anything else.

Some of the attitudes may seem dated by modern standards, but I think it's important to view the movie in the context of the times, when David's jubilation over being able to support his wife in style, and his matter-of-fact expectation that she would accompany him in a move to better his career, would seem perfectly normal.

Moreover, the movie seems rather ahead of its time for raising the issue of a woman being interested in continuing a career of her own, even if it's not a financial necessity.

What makes the movie particularly watchable, despite what is at times a rather sad storyline, are the performances of Montgomery and Bruce. Together they create a very believable intimacy and longing for one another. A moment as simple as Montgomery twirling Bruce's hair around his finger conveys their affection and the sense of a couple in a longtime relationship.

There's a beautiful scene where he comforts her during a thunderstorm, in what is obviously a regular routine, and then is overcome with emotion because of their marital separation.

While both characters have intransigent expectations, Bruce rather bravely plays a woman who edges at times on being unlikeable. David has been living life "Lynn's way" for years, while she refuses to even consider relocating. Given the twits she manages at work, her concern for her career over her husband wavers on seeming shallow, rather than having to do with the fulfillment of an important vocation.

The film's focus on a couple whose relationship is on the brink of disaster is eased by the fact that it's a short movie, just 73 minutes, so it moves like lightning. Granted, this may also work against the film, as it seems a couple as devoted as the Conways are initially would spend some more time first trying to work things out.

The film builds to an ending which won't surprise anyone who watches lots of '30s movies, though some have found it weakens the film.

The fine supporting cast includes Warren William as Lynn's business partner, plus Binnie Barnes, Alan Dinehart, Harry Davenport, Nydia Westman, Jonathan Hale, and Lee Bowman (sans mustache!).

THE FIRST HUNDRED YEARS was directed by Richard Thorpe. It was shot in black and white by Joseph Ruttenberg. Bruce's costumes were by Dolly Tree.

The DVD isn't gleaming, but it's a perfectly watchable print which Montgomery's many fans will want to add to their collections. The disc includes the trailer. Incidentally, I love the cover art on the DVD box.

For more on this film, please visit my 2009 review.

Coming soon: A review of Montgomery and Bruce's other film together in 1938, YELLOW JACK (1938), as well as a review of Montgomery's turn as Lord Peter Wimsey in HAUNTED HONEYMOON (1940).

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

An odd title and a film I have never heard of. I like the combination of Montgomery and Bruce.

7:54 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

They're also very good together in YELLOW JACK, which I'll be reviewing soon.

This story may not be perfectly executed but I enjoy watched them together.

Best wishes,

11:38 PM  

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