Towards the end of World War I, a nurse in England, Doris Kendall (Constance Bennett) meets an American soldier (Joel McCrea as Captain Barry Craig). They fall in love; he wants to marry her, but if he does, she will be sent back to America, and she desperately wants to stay in Europe to be near him. They spend the night together, just before he leaves for the front. And then, the floor falls out from under Doris when she learns that Barry is missing, presumed dead. Thus begins Born to Love (1931).
Certainly, Born to Love is a melodrama, but a very well-done one, with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing til the end of the film. Sure, we know that Barry isn't dead fairly early on, but that does not keep the suspense active - will Doris find out that Barry is alive in time? Will she leave her new husband (Paul Cavanagh as Sir Wilfred Drake)? There's more, but that would give too much away.
We saw some interesting similarities to other films we have watched. The scene in which we discover that Barry and Doris have been intimate is delicately handled. The resulting out-of-wedlock baby reminded us of the post-code To Each His Own. Both are set during the First World War; both result in the mother having to make a decision about the child's (and their own) futures. And both are quite subtle in letting us know that more has happened than immediately meets the eye. Late in the film, there is a tragic occurrence; the film uses a silhouette convey the tragedy. Interestingly the same technique was used in the 1937 Adventure in Manhattan, which also starred Joel McCrea. There is even a line of dialog that is remarkably similar. McCrea appears to be the only common link between two film. Is it possible he suggested the line? Or did the authors see Born to Love? I suspect we will never know.
Constance Bennett is excellent in this film. We were again taken with her versatility as a screen actress. She is able to move seamlessly from comedy to intense drama. And certainly the plot of this film demands an intensity of emotion. Joel McCrea again plays a man who is not entirely likeable. His Barry is selfish; he shows up after Doris has married, urging her to abandon her husband AND her child for him. We wondered why he had never tried to communicate with her until then (a period of nearly a year). He says he was very ill; could he not find a nurse willing to write to his fiance and let her know he was alive? Those two things made us very distrustful of him; we saw him as quite childish and unreliable. Which made us more sympathetic to Sir Wilfred. Except that Sir Wilfred ultimately shows himself to be the biggest cad of all. This man who originally seems kind, strong, and loving turns out to be cruel, cowardly, and sneaky. As we said, this is not a simple film.
We have a couple of character actors to mention - Louise Closser Hale as Wilfred's aunt, Lady Agatha Ponsonby is quite good. Her character is no-nonsense. At first she doesn't seem to think all that much of Doris, yet when things get tough, she is gone. As though she doesn't want to be involved in her nephew's calumny. And Frederick Kerr as Lord James Ponsonby (or Uncle James, as Doris calls him) is quite good as the only truly good man in the film. He dislikes his nephew's actions, but has no control over him. Uncle James' distress is quite evident, as is his affection for Doris.
Next time, we'll be seeing another Constance Bennett film. We hope to see you then.