Monday, October 10, 2011

Joan Shines (Well, not quite)

Our film this time is Crawford's 1938 melodrama The Shining Hour. Crawford is Olivia (Maggie) Riley, a nightclub singer who weds Harry Linden (Melvyn Douglas) and moves with him to his farm (really big, wealthy farm) in Wisconsin.  The new couple moves in with Harry's brother David (Robert Young), sister-in-law Judy (Margaret Sullavan), and much older sister Hannah (Fay Bainter).  Unfortunately, what we have here is not one big, happy family - it rather more resembles the Ewings of Dallas - lots in infighting, jealousy, and sexual tension.  It seems that David, who is one of these guys who is never satisfied with what he has, develops an infatuation of Olivia. She begins to respond, but fights it, by urging her husband to build them a new home away from the family mansion, which he does.  And then there is Hannah, who hates this competition for her brother's affection, and makes it perfectly clear that Olivia is not welcome.  Moving out seems like it should be the perfect solution, however, problems pursue them to their new abode.

The real problem with the movie is that the characters just don't ring true, especially our supporting characters.  Judy is just WAY too sweet and self-sacrificing.  Our group felt that David needed a good swift kick - or the corned Judy demanding BIG alimony.  And then there is Hannah. Without giving too much away, her bitchy treatment of Olivia, her domineering attitude towards her brothers and her home were one thing, but then there is a scene close to the end where she gets, well, VERY strange indeed.  We won't even talk about the last scene.  We wondered if the character had had a brain transplant; we though manic-depression medications might actually be in order.  As to Robert Young, whom we all like as a general rule, he is annoying and self-centered  throughout the film. Then again, David is supposed to be annoying and self-centered, so Young is doing his job. 
Douglas and Crawford are good here, but the script makes it hard to really sink ones' teeth into anything.  What we really enjoyed was the relationship between Crawford and Hattie McDaniel (here playing Belvedere, Maggie's maid and confidante).  One thing that really surprised us was a scene in which Olivia leaps out of her car, runs to Belevedere and embraces her.  1938, and a white woman is hugging a black woman!  It was lovely, genuine and somewhat astounding.  And, of course McDaniel makes YOU want to hug Belvedere as well.

Next  time, we'll be doing a film that is slightly different from our norm.  Join us then. In the meantime, here is a trailer:

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