Monday, January 7, 2013

Nanny in Disguise

Devotion (1931) stars Ann Harding as Shirley Mortimer the maligned and ignored daughter of an intellectual family.  While assisting her family (Shirley runs the house. The rest of the family is “too busy”), she meets David Trent (Leslie Howard), a busy barrister in need of a nanny for his young son. Shirley is smitten with David, and decides to pursue their relationship by apply for the job as nanny. She facilitates this by inventing an older Cockney lady, Mrs. Halifax, and donning a grey wig, old clothing, and glasses. David, of course, is oblivious to the disguise, but it doesn’t take long for his client, Norman Harrington (Robert Williams) to realize that the wig is hiding an attractive, young woman.

It struck us that Shirley was the somewhat less unbalanced mother of Bette Davis’ Charlotte Vale (Now, Voyager). Both are looked down upon by their families, both seem to see themselves as unattractive.< However, Shirley decides NOT to have a nervous breakdown. Instead, she becomes someone else.

Though filmed in the Pre-code era, this isn’t really a Pre-code movie. Or is it? Norman has murdered his wife (and been found innocent, because the wife was a violent lush). And David has his own little secret (which we won’t reveal) that rather smacks of the Pre-code ethos.

Ann Harding is quite endearing as Shirley. Though her family doesn’t think so, she really does have a backbone, is smart, and ultimately quite attractive. Leslie Howard is appropriately befuddled as the overworked barrister. And then there is Robert Williams. Robert Osborne told us about his unfortunate, brief life – a life cut short just as he was receiving attention for his work. His Norman is JUST enough on the edge to make you wonder IF he was really a murderer. One is never quite sure if he is trustworthy or not. And watch for Louise Closser Hale as Shirley's witch of a mother.
We leave you with a clip from the film. Next time, a real Pre-Code film!