Saturday, July 28, 2007

Queen Norma Shearer: Avec Robert Montgomery Poll

I just had the pleasure of watching Private Lives (1931) which recently aired on TCM and I had managed to tape it. It's so difficult to find Norma Shearer films to watch (see my previous rant about this subject) that when I get the opportunity to see one for the first time I feel like I found a $10 bill I didn't know I had. This particular one was a treat because it's one of the many pairings of Norma Shearer with Robert Montgomery.

This duo, although not as famous as, say Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy or Doris Day and Rock Hudson, was a successful one in it's own right and produced some wonderful movies. My personal favorite one is Strangers May Kiss (1931). For those of you out there who are Norma Shearer fans (or Robert Montgomery fans), let me know which of these is your favorite by posting a comment (I love getting those).

Their Own Desire (1929)
The Divorcee (1929)
Private Lives (1931)
Strangers May Kiss (1931)
Riptide (1934)


  1. Gee, that's a tough one.

    I love all the films, but it seems to me that Private Lives is the only one in which Robert Montgomery is given equal space. As a co-starring vehicle, I would say that it's my favorite.

    The Divorcee and Strangers May Kiss, co-starring, respectively, Chester Morris and Neil Hamilton, as well as Private Lives, would have to be my favorite Norma films. The movies themselves are excellent and her acting in them is superb; I can't imagine another woman in those roles. I love Robert as the caddish Don in The Divorcee. Though I know he means well in Strangers May Kiss, I find him a bit of a buttinsky.

    Their Own Desire is very sweet. Robert looks so young and is so boyish in manner in that film.

    Riptide is, on the whole, a fine picture (I did a little silly on it a while back), but, in many ways, it anticipates Code morality. Robert's character may be, throughout most of the picture, a trifle irresponsible, but, still, I would have dumped stuffy old Herbert Marshall for him in a minute.

    ... Well, blah, blah, blah ...

  2. just saw Divorcee tonight (haven't seen any of those others! although I have seen NS in a few other films, mostly--except for Strange Interlude, which I kind of love--from the mid-to-late 30s)--Norma is splendid in it, but I do find Chester Morris somewhat lacking in the key role of the husband... Frankly, he's almost as much of a cipher as the philanderer we never even see in The Women

    I would probably hate the ending of The Divorcee no matter what--just as I hate the logic which demands the humbling climax of The Women--but I do think that the film would have worked better with someone less thuggish playing Ted... (ah well! it was very early in the talkie game, after all, and the studios were still trying to figure out who had charisma and who didn't...)


  3. Trombonology - You are so dead on. This IS the only one in which Shearer and Montgomery get equal screen time.

    And little silly nothing, your articles are always superb!

    Dave- I'm so jealous. I wish I could see Strange Interlude. Or at least the end of The Divorcee (my taping cut off the last 20 minutes or so).

    I have to say, the only thing I found remarkable about Chester Morris was his profile!

  4. with any luck, all of these movies will be out on DVD soon (I've been requesting them on VHS through my university's interlibrary loan, but there's gotta be a better way!)

  5. I have to say that I feel Chester Morris was marvelous in the role of the husband. Now, it's possible that my understanding of the character is based partly upon how it was played, but because I interpret Ted Martin as an old-fashioned he-man (oh, what a word), I think Chester played the part beautifully. There are references to Ted's (pre-journalist career) exploits on the gridiron ... and we also are led to understand that he was quite the ladies' man before he and Norma's Jerry took up. Jerry clearly is mad about him -- in a way that she never could be about RM's silly playboy Don or blah Conrad Nagel's blah Paul, who's mad about her. It's just an inexplicable attraction. ... I can't envision anyone else from the MGM stable of the period in the role of Ted.

    The Divorcee is so far ahead of its time in its presentation of women and marriage that I can't find fault with the ending. Jerry's most humbling moment, as far as I'm concerned, comes not at the end but soon after she admits to Ted that she "balanced our accounts;" she tells him: "I'll never do anything you don't like; I'll never make you sorry -- really. I'll forgive you anything, dear. Can't you please forgive me? ... I wince at this -- and so does she (the character), I think. I love the line, "Oh, Ted, don't let's talk about men and women -- they do all sorts of things!"

    This movie is light years ahead of its time. It has to be pored over, from start to finish, in order to be fully appreciated.

    My personal feeling is that I wouldn't want a man who could have succumbed to either The Divorcee's brazen vamp Janice or The Women's cheap, phony-as-a-three-dollar-bill Crystal Allen. But, then again, both Jerry and Mary are women madly, inexplicably in love ... with their respective erring ex-husbands.

    ... Oh ... and Chester's profile (a bit Brandoesque, I think) is rather unusual. It's interesting to see him and a leading lady facing eachother in profile -- the woman's nose always protrudes more than his does.

  6. Ok. I'm a little speechless. Wish I could renege my heartless comment about Chester Morris!

    I should really watch The Divorcee again but can't due to it's limited availability. And I am heartily depressed that Sheaerer isn't one of TCM's Summer Under the Stars selections!

  7. points well taken Trombonolgy!

    I suppose that I'm just not able to stomach to kind of character the Morris was assigned in this film, unless it's done by a player who communicates an awareness of the artificiality of machismo--whilst still playing it to the hilt! And I guess here I'm talking about Gable, who would not yet have been in a career-position to co-star in this film...and it's pretty clear that, as soon Gable did hit the bigtime at MGM, Morris was banished into roles (such as in Red Headed Woman) in which he and his deadly-earnest he-mannishness could be mocked and abused!

    I hope we all get a chance to see (and reassess!) The Divorcee on DVD really soon--the rumour is that it may appear on Forbidden Hollywood, volume 2!

  8. I dig, David. However, much as I love Gable, I can't see him in the part of Ted.

    You're right -- Harlow did just make mince-meat of ol' stalwart Chester in Red Headed Woman. ... "Now, Red, we're through!"

    The Divorcee on Forbidden Hollywood, Volume 2? That would be great. I do feel, though, that its rightful place would be in an all-Shearer set. For my dough, she was the quintessential pre-Code woman.

    Who, I wonder, would be the pre-Code man?

  9. I just watched "The Divorcee" last night. It was a pretty good movie. I felt as if I was watching some romantic drama about twenty and thirty somethings straight out of the 1990s.

    Norma Shearer deserved her Oscar. Although he had some moments of over-the-top acting, Chester Morris was pretty good. And Robert Montgomery was at turns rather funny and sexy as the best friend with whom she cheated on.

    I realized that the movie had a "happy ending", and many didn't care for it. But it was an ending in which both husband and wife were humbled. They not only forgave each other, but forgave themselves. I bought it.


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